Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Innocence, Juries, and Prosecutors

The discussion of the recently overturned verdict convicting Joshua Kezer of the 1992 murder of Angela Mischelle Lawless draws attention to the oft-heard argument of those who would ignore innocence claims: the jury convicted him.

You don't have to look beyond these pages to hear the voice of a juror who voted for conviction, even though he clearly doubts the guilt of the defendant.

In Kezer's case, more than 25 pages of findings supported his innocence of the crime or listed suppressed evidence that could have changed a jury's verdict. Authorities suppressed evidence from a witness who identified another person as the perpetrator. The prosecutor in closing mischaracterized vegetable juice stains on Kezer's jacket as blood.

Prosecutor Kenny Hulshof's defense for his actions: "But twelve jurors looked these witnesses in the eye, dispassionately listened to their testimony, and found them to be credible."

Amazing, no? He defends the legitimacy of his case by saying in essence, "The jury believed my lies, so it must be true."

Fortunately, Missouri's Cole County Judge Richard G. Callahan would have none of of Hulshof's reasoning. Callahan writes in his opinion:

"A jury trial is not a shield for prosecutors to avoid difficult charging decisions, and deference to a jury verdict is not a substitute for meaningful judicial review. In the final analysis, our system of trial by jury is there to protect citizens from its own government, not to protect government from its own mistakes."
Thanks to the Innocence Institute of Point Park University for material presented here and orgininally published on its blog.

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