Saturday, March 16, 2013

The upside of waking up on Saturday morning with beginnings of a hideous cold that only gets worse as the day progresses is getting to watch a) lots of basketball and b) a marathon of those true crime shows when the basketball gets uninteresting. So after watching my beloved Jayhawks wrap up yet another conference tournament title and assure themselves an invite to the Big Dance (I was worried...), I flipped to TLC.

The story I watched was a case from Florida involving a distraught husband whose 33 year-old and seemingly healthy wife dropped dead one night. But police and prosecutors decided it was murder and so charged the husband. The oh-so-compelling evidence against him was stuff like "he was calm one minute and hysterical the next." He said he found her slumped on the toilet. No, he said he found her on the floor. No, she might have been over the magazine rack by the toilet. Then there was the Miami beat cop who swore that the hood of the car was warm to the touch... There was also some fun stuff like some of the first responders (who took 23 minutes to get to the house, btw) swore the husband was fully dressed, including shoes, at 4 am when he said he'd been in bed.

Ok, so maybe the dressed when he supposedly had been in bed thing sounds bad. Except the very first responder says the husband was in boxers and a t-shirt. And here's the big one: the husband has an identical twin brother, who the husband called while he was waiting for an ambulance. So, yeah, all those first responders who saw a guy fully dressed were seeing the brother.

As for the other stuff, it terrifies me when police and prosecutors decide someone has committed murder before there's even any evidence that there is a murder based on the person they suspect not behaving the way they think he or she should. The calm/hysterical thing, for example. Well, for crying out loud. Do these police and prosecutors know human beings at all? What 35 year-old man with two small children whose 33 year-old perfectly healthy wife just apparently dropped dead with no warning wouldn't ricochet wildly between calm and hysterical? That's downright textbook human reaction. Moments of odd calm because this is too bizarre to be real and moments of the reality breaking through. Sheesh, if you're going to judge people as murderers based on their behavior, at least understand human behavior!

The vague inconsistencies (if they can even be called that) about whether she was on the floor or slumped over the toilet (wouldn't someone who is slumped over the toilet also quite possibly be on the floor?), well, a guy who is ricocheting wildly between hysterical and calm in the immediate aftermath of his seemingly-healthy wife's sudden death most likely wouldn't say the same thing every time. I thought they taught that in detective school, that minor inconsistencies are the hallmark of a truthful statement because someone who is innocent isn't trying to memorize a story. Whereas if your details remain too consistent, it's because you've rehearsed a particular story. Except when it's the exact opposite because the cops have already decided you committed murder, so then it's highly suspicious that you can't keep your details straight.

The end to this Dateline was happy, thankfully. After 5 years of suspicion and accusations (with all the accompanying cost), the poor widower was found not guilty by a jury. But not before the prosecutors in their closing argument accused his mother-in-law of lying on the stand (she was called as a defense witness and the prosecution alleged she was only sticking by the murdering sob so she could see her grandchildren). I'm thinking calling the alleged victim's mother a liar doesn't endear a prosecutor to a jury. The jury foreman spoke to Dateline for the rest of the jury and made it very clear that this jury didn't just find the man not guilty, they found him 100% completely innocent. They heard his frantic 911 call and heard a man who was desperate and had no idea what was happening. The jury was angry that the murder charge had ever been filed. As am I.

(I have to say, I was mildly surprised by the verdict. My mom and I always bemoan these shows that involve deaths that aren't clearly murders to begin with because it seems the juries always go with the prosecution and convict on the flimsiest supposition.)

The prosecutor was unapologetic, of course. After all, he couldn't keep it straight whether he found his wife dying on the floor or slumped over the toilet! He was calm one minute and crazed the next! The hood of his car in an un-air-conditioned garage in Miami was warm!

Oy. If I had my way, this kind of prosecution, based on pop (or should I call it cop) psychology and hunches would never happen. I would institute a rule that says if your case relies on "he didn't act the way I think he should have," you can't pursue that charge in court unless you find evidence. This deciding that a guy seems suspicious and so I'm going to suspect him and build a case for murder thing just isn't cutting it. Don't build a case against a person. Don't build a murder case. Just build the case as it exists. Leave the hunches and the armchair psychology to the people who watch Criminal Minds. Or at the very least, develop some sympathy and understanding for the fact that grief is an incredibly complex thing and people probably shouldn't be judged for how they deal with it.

But I don't get my way, so there will continue to be nonsense cases like this. Here's hoping there will likewise be more juries like this one.

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