Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Prosecutors play Russian roulette with the lives of men accused of rape

Remember the scene in the film "The Deer Hunter" where sadistic prison guards forced young American soldiers to play Russian roulette for the guards' sport and amusement?  While the men held the guns to their own heads with fear few of us could fathom, the guards happily gambled among themselves on whether the young men would blow their brains out.  If one of them did, it would be a spectacular, guffaw-inducing entertainment for the guards, no more worthy of their remorse than killing an ant.  It is among the most brutal, inhumane scenes in the history of mainstream American cinema.

A perfectly legal and entirely respectable -- yet nonetheless brutal and sadistic -- version of that "sport" is being played out in American courtrooms across the country every day.  If you don't think that's possible, if you think it's hyperbole, you haven't been paying attention.  Prosecuting attorneys are playing Russian roulette with the lives of presumed innocent men -- usually young men -- accused of rape.  I'm referring to those cases where there is no evidence to support the allegation of rape aside from the word of a lone female accuser. It's just his word against hers.  Oh, sure, the prosecutor will dig up some porn on the man's computer to paint him as a sex-fiend to the jury and things of that nature.  But no real evidence to support the alleged act. The prosecutor doesn't know which party to believe, and doesn't really care, so he or she gladly throws the man to the jury -- and fights like hell -- fights dirty if necessary (I've seen it) -- for a conviction.  And if the female is a better liar, if she's had acting training, or if perhaps she's just a "natural," the D.A. might just get his or her wish.  The truth be damned.

Sometimes when I want a client to settle a case before trial, I urge him or her to go over and take a look at the composition of the average jury.  The word I always use to describe our jury system is this: "crapshoot."  Anytime you go before a jury, you are gambling.  Prosecutors are gladly gambling with the lives, the liberty, of presumed innocent men in the hope of getting a conviction. 

Here is an example ripped from last weekend's news.  It is inhumane, it is brutal, and it is our modern "civilized" version of Russian roulette:

Man acquitted on abuse charge

Sexual abuse claims against James Cooper Jr. weighed heavy on him for four long years.

With a unanimous not-guilty verdict on a charge of statutory rape, a Leflore County jury lifted his burden.

“I haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep for four years. Tonight, I’m going to sleep good,” the 40-year-old construction worker from Cruger said as he left the courtroom Friday afternoon.

Just in front of him, Cooper’s mother, Sarah, said, “Thank you, Jesus,” again and again.

At the same time, the alleged victim of sexual abuse — who was 13 when the claims first arose against Cooper in 2005 — wept with her head cast on the pew in front of her as her family sat around her, shocked.

Assistant District Attorney Timothy Jones offered a handshake to the winning defense attorney, Johnnie Walls of Greenville.
Walls had hammered home the message during closing arguments that the state’s case was built solely on the girl’s word with no physical evidence.
“What if she’s lying?” Walls said. “Do you know? Don’t tell me children can’t make things up.”
Jones countered that child abuse is normally secretive. He said either Cooper or the girl was not telling the truth and told the jury to make a decision based on who they believed was most credible.
The girl, Jones argued, had no motive to lie but risked humiliation to tell what she said happened to her in open court.
“There was ample opportunity for this child to recant — to tell me, ‘Let’s not go forward,’” Jones said. “She never did.”
The jury took just less than an hour to find Cooper innocent.
The Commonwealth has a policy not to identify victims of sexual abuse and has withheld certain facts about the case that could jeopardize the victim’s anonymity.
The alleged victim’s two younger brothers both testified Friday, the second day of the trial in Leflore County Circuit Court.
They both said their sister had told them Cooper was touching her and that they had then told their mother. They both also said they never saw Cooper do anything inappropriate to their sister.

The girl and her mother went to their pastor’s house in Cruger when the boys reported what their sister told them.

James Cooper Sr., a pastor who is also the defendant’s father, testified the mother appeared depressed when they arrived but the girl seemed jolly and had a smile on her face.

After learning of the allegations, Cooper Sr. called his son and asked him to come to the house. Cooper Jr. strenuously denied any inappropriate touching and demonstrated what he had done, his father said.

In court Friday, Cooper Sr. acted out the quick tap on the lower back he said he was shown that night. He said he then advised his son not to touch the girl in any way or communicate with her at all.

Cooper Jr., when he took the stand wearing a gray sport coat and brown slacks, said that was the last he heard of the sexual abuse claims until a Leflore County Sheriff’s Department investigator called him almost two years later.

“I was hurt and disappointed and amazed,” Cooper said about hearing of new sexual abuse claims against him.

He said he immediately went to the department and answered all the questions posed him, always denying he had done anything wrong.

At that time, the girl had only alleged groping, but she later told a social worker she was the victim of statutory rape.

Under cross-examination, Cooper said he was the one telling the truth.

“It’s just like it’s my word against hers,” he said.

Link: http://gwcommonwealth.com/articles/2009/12/13/news/top_stories/12132009news1.txt