Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Justice Delayed Isn't Always Justice Denied

Most of us have heard the adage "Justice delayed is justice denied". According to Wikipedia it is a legal cliche meaning that if legal redress is available for a party that has suffered some injury, but is not forthcoming in a timely fashion, it is effectively the same as having no redress at all. This principle is the basis for the right to a speedy trial and similar rights which are meant to expedite the legal system, because it is unfair for the injured party to have to sustain the injury with little hope for resolution. This seems to apply to the civil side of the legal system and to the defendants side of the criminal system.

After looking back at a few of the trials from 2008 I think we can change that adage to "Justice delayed isn't always justice denied". As a matter of fact that could be the theme for 2 of the trials that come to mind, I will get to them in a bit. My hope is that it will also be the theme for the Phil Spector retrial that began this fall and should wrap up in the next month or so.

Phil Spector, an eccentric music producer of the 60's, is charged with killing actress Lana Clarkson on Feb.3, 2003. The prosecution contends that Spector, who has a history of pulling guns during alcohol fueled rages, repeated that behavior in the wee hours of that Feb.3 in a rage that ended in the death of Lana Clarkson by an intra oral gunshot wound. That's right folks they say he stuck the gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger.

Spector's lawyer at the time, Robert Shapiro (think OJ Simpson dream team and legalzoom.com), was able to get Spector released the same day on a million dollar cash bond. Phil Spector has yet to spend one night in jail. Spector was also able to postpone going to trial until 2007 by changing his defense team several times. For the victims of a crime or their survivors, when the accused decides to wave the right to a speedy trial, justice delayed can be misery...

When Spector did finally go to trial many say he was able to "buy" himself a hung jury by assembling his own "dream team" of forensic experts and 5 attorneys. The first trial, that lasted over 5 months, didn't buy Spector the acquittal he had hoped for, although the hung jury (10-2 in favor of guilty) did "buy" him another year of freedom.

For the retrial Spector has pared down his "dream team" to 1 lawyer. Whether he has a forensic "dream team" remains to be seen, the defense should begin presenting their case soon. Using the same defense theory as his first trial, Spector contends that Lana Clarkson in a moment of despair committed suicide. Whatever Phil! How that explains why Phil walked outside with the gun in his hand after the shot was fired and told his chauffeur "I think I killed somebody", I don't know. The defense claims the chauffeur is mistaken, but that is pretty lame, really. As I said in the beginning of this post, hopefully "Justice delayed isn't always justice denied".

OJ Simpson's robbery trial in Las Vegas was easily the most notorious trial of 2008. Whether deserving or not Simpson's case was definately given the most media coverage of any trial in 2008. Despite a valiant effort by his attorneys, Simpson was convicted on all counts and is expected to spend up to 33 years in prison. The verdict in this case came down 13 years to the day after OJ was acquitted for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. For many, this conviction atones for the denial of justice many felt when OJ was acquitted 13 years before. Once again "Justice delayed isn't always justice denied".

For me, the trial of 2008 that was the most interesting and appalling didn't include any famous names or tons of money, but best exemplifies the adage "Justice delayed isn't always justice denied" is the Mark Jensen murder trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Jensen's trial didn't start until the first week of January 2008, even though Mark's wife was found dead on December 3, 1998. The case had dragged on since Julie Jensen, 40, after having fallen ill and taken to bed, was found dead in her Pleasant Prairie, WI home. Mark Jensen wasn't charged until 2002 and legal wrangling over evidence delayed the trial another 6 years.

Several weeks before her death, Julie Jensen talked to local police, her son's school teacher and a neighbor, and told them that she suspected her husband was planning to kill her. She went so far as to give her neighbor a sealed letter that detailed her suspicions, and asked her neighbor to give the letter to the police if anything happened to her.

Prosecutors allege Mark Jensen fed Julie Jensen several doses of ethylene glycol--the sweet, syrupy but poisonous liquid commonly used in antifreeze--and then smothered her when she started to recover from the poisoning.

In his defense Mark Jensen argued that his wife was depressed and angry because he was having an affair, so she did Internet searches on poisoning in an effort to frame him, then committed suicide by poisoning herself.

At trial, prosecutors wanted to use Julie Jensen's statements to speak as a "voice from the grave" in an effort to prove that Mark Jensen had murdered his wife, but first they had to convince the courts to allow such evidence.

Using such evidence in court has for years been blocked by strict hearsay rules giving criminal defendants the right to confront their accusers. The Wisconsin Supreme Court created new rules, prompted by a US Supreme Court decision and this case, that laid the ground work for her accusatory letter and statements to police to be used as evidence in the trial.

On February 21, 2008, after a six week trial, Mark Jensen was convicted of murder, first degree intentional homicide, which carries a mandatory sentence for lifetime imprisonment under Wisconsin law.

Because of all the interesting twists and turns of this case, that I haven't even touched on here, I will take a more in depth look at this case in another post.


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