Thursday, March 27, 2008

How an Innocent Person is Convicted, Part 8: Conclusions before research

A long time college professor, I've always been frustrated by a few students who seem to feel that they've already got it figured out. You've probably suffered through their presence in classes you've taken. Often, they're ideologues (from anywhere on the political spectrum). Theirs is a cockiness that can only come from uninformed opining.

They are the students who turn in a first draft containing nothing but their unsupported opinions and then go to work seeking in the library (or more likely online today) whatever factoids might support their preconceptions. They give scant or no attention to anything that might challenge their beliefs.

Such is the kind of thinking and approach the authorities seem to have taken in investigating and prosecuting Todd.

For us, the process was quite different. I'll never forget the night Todd was charged with murder. I called my boss, an Air Force Colonel, and told her that "in my heart I can't believe he did it." I'd have to see the evidence, though, before I could know with my head.

The intellectual knowing came a couple weeks later, when the police released the first volume of discovery in the case. Only then did we learn that the victim had been fighting with Brad Orgill, not with Todd. Only then did we learn that no one had seen Todd near the victim.

Surely, we thought at the time, the police and prosecutors will look at the evidence that's been gathered, will analyze it logically, will reconsider the rushed decision made to indict Todd.

But they didn't.

Todd's attorney met with prosecutor Amy Mullaney and lead investigator Jeff Nohr, and he went over the eyewitness statements, including those which are archived on this web site, statements that pointed away from Todd as the perpetrator. But Mullaney had begun to think like one of those students whose mind has been made up, who's not going to let the facts get in the way.

She responded adversarially.

A short time later, still months before the forensic analysis would be complete, Mullaney offered Orgill a deferred sentence in exchange for testimony against Todd. That decision, not the facts of the case, eliminated Orgill from consideration as the assailant, and it left Todd as the sole focus of the ensuing investigation.

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