Juries and Lynch Mobs
What If Jackson had been on Trial in Massachusetts?
By ALEXANDER COCKBURN
and JEFFREY ST. CLAIR
There's at least one man recently convicted of homosexual misconduct with a minor, now serving a twelve to fifteen-year sentence, who surely received news of Michael Jackson's acquittal with a sigh of envy at the quality of Jackson's defense team and the sturdy independence of a jury that refused to be swayed by the lynch mob atmosphere that has hung over the Jackson trial like a toxic fog. Well return forthwith to that convicted sex offender, Father Paul Shanley, but first, what lessons should we draw from Jackson's acquittal on all counts?
The not-guilty verdict for Jackson shows once again what can happen when the prosecution and defense are on at least an equal footing. Jackson had a top-flight lawyer with an unlimited budget. The prosecutors did what most prosecutors do in America: pile up the charges, on the calculation that the defendant will plead out.
In most criminal cases the over-charging is accompanied by the allegations of jail-house snitches and by lies on the witness stand from cops. The defendants have either no budget at all or only modest resources. They can't afford expert witnesses, or private investigators to pick the prosecution's case apart.
When a defendant can afford a good lawyer, top-flight investigators, expert witnesses and kindred firepower, very often the prosecution's case simply falls apart, starting with sloppy handling of evidence, compromised forensic work and contradictory testimony from the police.
In Jackson's case the piling up of the charges led the prosecution into the "conspiracy" disaster. They had to put the mother of the boy with cancer on the stand to elicit testimony about her supposed kidnapping on the Jackson estate. Every minute that mother stayed on the stand, the prosecution took a terrible beating.
The twelve did exactly what jurors should do and offered a magnificent example of the abiding importance of the jury as the fundamental bulwark of freedom in this Republic. In their press conference the jurors laid waste the disappointed lynch mob with dignified and articulate responses.
Their bottom line was simple: the prosecution had simply failed to make its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Such outrageous prosecutorial strategies, okayed by the judge, as allowing the jury to hear previous allegations (many of them not even first hand accounts) against Jackson on which he'd not been convicted had cut no ice with these jurors. "He may have molested one of those kids, but they never proved he molested this kid", one juror said.
Nor were the jurors ever jolted from common sense. Those stacks of lurid porn, which the prosecution spent more than a week projecting in front of the jury on a giant screen in an attempt to further sully Jackson's reputation? So what, said a juror. Jackson's an adult. So what if the magazines were called "Barely Legal"? The key word is "legal", offered another juror.
It was a great day for the jury and a gratifying blow against the lynch mob, including outfits such as CNN which averted their gaze from photographs of abuse at Abu Ghraib, while stigmatizing Jackson as the supreme abuser.
The jury in Santa Maria also dealt a much deserved blow to the social police, the cabal of psychologists, "victim's rights" lawyers and therapists who, through a kind of modern-day mesmerism, yanked and manipulated tales of molestation from poor teens who had roamed the playgrounds of Neverland.
This gang of self-appointed termagants, lead by Gloria Allred and child psychologist Carol Lieberman, has been hounding Jackson since 1993, filing complaints with child welfare offices across southern California and ultimately bullying the DA's office into bringing this failed case. Allred even went so far as to try to have the state seize Jackson's own children.
But that jury in Santa Maria sent them all packing.
Contrast this process in Santa Barbara County to the disgraceful trial of Father Paul Shanley who was convicted in Massachusetts earlier this year, based on testimony far, far flimsier than what the jury rejected in the Jackson case.
Shanley was found guilty on the uncorroborated testimony of one man's "recovered memories" of abuse at the hands of Shanley many years before. Paul Busa claimed Shanley had pulled him out of religious classes and sexually abused him for years starting when he was six. Not a single witness from those who had worked at the school could corroborate these memories in any way.
These days "recovered memory" has been thoroughly discredited. The judge should have thrown the case out. The jury was caught up in the hysteria. A skilled defense attorney could have mounted as deadly an assault on the recovered memories as Jackson's lawyer did on the "kidnaped" mother. But Shanley's lawyer was not up to the challenge.
So the 74-year Shanley drew a 12 to 15 year prison sentence in a case where the lynch mob atmosphere generated by the Boston Globe and other media had a chilling effect on both judge and jury. The prosecutors must have known how lucky they were. Aware of the weakness of their case, last year they'd offered Shanley two years' house arrest. He refused the deal, insisting he was innocent.
It shows that culturally and intellectually Santa Barbara County is a hundred times more enlightened than that home of the witch trials, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. But what county in America isn't?
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