provenance: unknown

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Unusual, but not injust

The judge in the murder trial of Alex and Derek King, the two teenage brothers who were convicted of murdering their father but whose trial had been conducted after prosecutors tried a family friend for the same crime (but sealed the first verdict until after the second trial), has overturned the convictions. The judge believes the prosecution's "unusual and bizarre" manner of conducting the trials violated the boys' due process, the New York Times reports. (The Washington Post's coverage is similar.)

The prosecutors' approach does indeed seem strange. But there doesn't seem to be any claim that there was something wrong with the boys' trial itself. The Times notes that the prosecution's argument, from the other trial, that the family friend was the killer "cannot be retracted" — but this raises what I think is a deeper question: Is it really the job of the prosecution to decide before the trial who the real killer is?

Imagine a situation where a prosecutor cannot decide which of two parties was more likely, given the evidence on hand, to have committed a given crime. In such a case, is it really more fair for the prosecutor to make that call, as opposed to letting a jury (or pair of juries) evaluate the evidence and make their own decision?

I mean, suppose there's more than adequate evidence to convict either party (but it couldn't be the case that both parties are guilty of the same exact crime — suppose, say, one was only an accomplice after the fact). Then the prosecutor is effectively deciding which of the two is guilty. Is that justice?

Maybe the boys' due process was violated. But if so, it seems like it wasn't violated by the prosecutors' actions so much as some theoretical impossibility of arriving at a fair verdict — in which case, it was the jury that let the boys down, when they returned a guilty verdict. But if in fact there was sufficient evidence to decide whether it was the boys or the family friend who was guilty, and two separate juries both evaluated the evidence in question and reached the same conclusions, where is the injustice?

Update: On November 13, the two boys pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, the Times reported.

October 18, 2002 4:21 PM

Comments (and TrackBacks)

I watched the boys' trial every day... really, every day. One of the "joys" of working off-site. My first impression, those two little imps of the Dark Side deserve all the years they get.

But, i gotta say, the prosecution's method was typical Florida; get the result, no matter the method. I dunno, call me an idealist, but i believe a prosecutor should hold tight to the idea that they actually have a belief in who is guilty of what, and not the method of "well, if we just prosecute everyone still alive in this whole sordid incident, we're bound to get a guilty... somewhere."

No doubt this method came as a result of many a night firing buckshot into the deep dark night sounds of ducks on the everglades. This is why bubbas shouldn't do law.


Posted by rob adams on October 22, 2002 12:50 PM

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