Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dr. Kimble didn't kill his wife and I do care

Ok, so I'm supposed to be working tonight. (Or should I say this morning as it's now 2 a.m.) I could have attended a block party or gone to the roller derby or watched "The Princess Bride" under the stars, but I didn't. I stayed home because I'm under double deadline. (Ok, so I went out for one drink, but I was only gone for an hour.)

Mostly this evening, I've been working. Which means I've been watching t.v., surfing the net, and puttering around my house. With the occasional jotting down of a brilliant thought thrown in. Tonight, I got lucky and found "The Fugitive" on t.v. Who doesn't love that movie? Harrison Ford at his Indestructoman best. Love it.

But tonight, while I was "working" and watching Harrison Ford refuse to die no matter how many times he plunged off a dam or fell through windows onto elevators below, I was reminded of a conversation I had on my college's computer message board back when this movie first came out in 1992. In those days before web browsing was the thing, we had quite the robust discussion board. One of the groups I frequently read and commented on was the movie forum. And at the time that "The Fugitive" came out, I distinctly recall one poster declaring it as ludicrous and a fatal flaw of the movie to think that anyone would be convicted of evidence on the scant, miniscule amount of evidence against Harrison Ford. Remember, there was no forced entry into Dr. Kimble's home, he was telling some outlandish story about a one-armed man, and Helen Kimble said something like, "He's trying to kill me. Richard, Richard." on her 911 call. This one poster kept insisting that he couldn't stand the movie because it was just beyond belief that anyone would be convicted and sentenced to death based on that evidence. I disagreed with him at the time, but I was just a lowly college student, so I didn't get far in convincing him he was wrong.

But because I am now "working" and have always suffered from "Someone is wrong on the internet"itis and I just watched the whole movie and I now have a decade of criminal defense work under my belt, I will now definitively state that Mr. Know-it-all on Vax was just plain wrong and I was right. People absolutely do get convicted on that kind of evidence. I have personally witnessed people getting mighty long prison sentences on less evidence than was presented against Dr. Kimble. And not  just poor defendants who couldn't afford high-priced lawyers and fancy experts.

The cold, hard truth is that so much of our criminal cases comes down to hunches. Police follow their hunches and sometimes they can get a little blinded by those hunches and then interpret all of the evidence in ways that conform to what they already feel in their gut happened. In Dr. Kimble's case, there was no sign of forced entry but he insisted he came in to find a one-armed man attacking his wife. Of course the police viewed that with skepticism and then viewed all future evidence with the thought in mind that the good doctor was trying to fool them. It is no surprise to me whatsoever, knowing what I know now, that a real man in Dr. Kimble's position would be charged. (Let's not forget, he was covered in her blood. Of course, he claimed that all got on him while he was fighting with the one-armed man and then valiantly trying to revive his wife...)

Juries act on hunches, too. We don't like to admit this, but it's true. Heck, many jurors may not even realize they're doing it. But they do. Haven't you ever watched one of those "48 Hours" or "Dateline" episodes where the jurors say they could just tell the defendant was guilty? I sure have. And I've seen plenty of cases where nothing can explain the guilty verdict except that gut feeling. They then view the evidence through that lens of the gut feeling.

So while it may not be believable that Dr. Kimble survived that fall off the dam or that he managed to sneak into the one-armed man's apartment without being seen by the cops swarming the block or that he took all those lickings and kept on ticking, it is entirely believable that he was convicted on the evidence presented. I am ready for your apology, Mr. Vax commenter whose name I either never knew or have long since forgotten.


P said...

You would remember if it was Zwirn, though, right? Didn't he stylize himself as a move critic/expert?

Though I think the saddest thing is that someone like you, who would be a kickass juror, is never going to be on a jury given your current employment. Would they even put you on a jury when you are retired, many years from now?

S said...

It was not Zwirn. I think it was a junior or senior who wasn't one of the usual suspects Vax-wise.

And, yeah, I don't see myself ever getting on a jury. At least a criminal jury. Personally I don't think prosecutors should be afraid of me. I mean, if they can prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, they wouldn't have anything to worry about, now would they. But if they're really only playing with a little bit of evidence that plays into their hunch, they would.

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