Thursday, June 30, 2016

How the System Works

I know there are a lot of people disappointed that this week's trial involving the man accused of killing Berit Beck ended in a mistrial.  The jury was not able to reach a verdict in the case--and now prosecutors must decide whether to take the case before another jury--a process likely to take another couple of years--or to make the even harder decision to let the matter sit again until a stronger case can be built sometime in the future.

TV shows and movies give us a skewed view of our legal system.  In Hollywood, the detectives always find the key piece of evidence.  Witnesses have perfect memories.  Suspects give up confessions willingly.  And juries almost always come to same conclusion that we the viewer have.  But in reality, those kinds of cases are rare.

In the Berit Beck case 26-years have passed, and with them have gone all hopes of an "open and shut" investigation.  Pieces of evidence have been lost--not by police negligence--but by the simple act of moving boxes and storage sites over that many years.  Some witnesses and technical experts have died and cannot testify--and to have someone testify "on their behalf" is hearsay and is not admissible in court.  Yes, there was fingerprint evidence (and it was that which led to the filing of these charges) but jurors today are conditioned to expect DNA evidence along with that--and that does not exist in this case.  There is no surveillance camera footage of the crime scene, no cell phone pings off of towers that can be triangulated to estimate a suspect's location at the time of the murder and no eyewitnesses.  And the likelihood of any more evidence like that showing up is very, very slim.

Investigators did the best they could, prosecutors did the best they could do, the defense did what it is supposed to do: create reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors and those jurors did the best they could in considering the less-than-perfect case presented to them.  Those who want Berit Beck's killer to be brought to justice should be encouraged that the jury at least failed to come to any verdict--because finding this suspect "not guilty" would have meant no ability to try him again--should additional evidence come to light that would bolster the State's case.

In a perfect world, Berit Beck's killer would have been sitting in a cell for the last 26-years.  On an episode of Cold Case, dectecitves and prosecutors would have pieced together an air-tight case.  But the world is neither perfect nor written to wrap things up in just 60-minutes.  And so justice may have to wait longer.

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