I sat in court on Tuesday, listening to arguments for the first time, as they apply to privacy, the search warrant, the search “return” (what they found) and three points of view – that of “the people,” which is the prosecution that doesn’t technically represent the victims but instead represents the state, that of the defendant, JJD and and in this case, that of the free press who have an attorney as well. As I listened to the arguments, I realize, I am incredibly biased in this case. So I’ll sit with that and do my best to call out when my bias is in play.
Request: As you read this blog, think about these arguments and then leave me a comment. I’d love to know how you see these issues. We’ll find out what the judge rules shortly.
It’s interesting to me this case is starting with something so powerful: what should be kept private and what do we, the people, have the right to know when it comes to suspect DeAngelo and his arrest and the subsequent search warrants? This is really at the core of what we stand for as a society. The right to a fair trial, the right to due process and the right to be innocent until proven guilty. I’ve grown up bathed in these tenants, believing them to be vital to a democracy and to be perfectly honest, essential if anyone I loved was ever charged with a crime.
But what if I am a victim?
That’s a term I still have a hard time using. Smith family members aren’t victims. We just aren’t. And yet, we are. This changed our lives. A bad guy took something from us we can’t get back and he ravaged our loved ones with savage disregard – like an alcoholic who doesn’t realize how much he’s had to drink. My dad and Charlene were just another “fix” for his insane compulsion. I wonder if he even remembers the crime?
The arguments on Tuesday were interesting. The prosecution had little to day. We couldn’t see their written motions but they seemed to be fairly aligned with the media requests – with some exceptions. They were for sure wanting to make sure victim names were protected except in the case of the murders – because deceased individuals don’t have the same rights.
The media lawyer, Duffy Carolton, is working on behalf of the AP, New York Times, ABC and other media outlets (there was a list and I didn’t get it all down) and she argued the public has a right to know and also release this information can serve the public and the victims as well. I actually pulled her aside to clarify this point. More about this below. In a nutshell, the media wants as much as it can get.
The defense wants nothing out there. Not. A. Thing. Their assertion is anything that’s published with taint a future jury. [Yes, they said the word taint dozens of times and those of us who are not that mature managed to stifle our giggles that something this serious would hinge on a word that appears in the Urban Dictionary. I’m such an idiot that I explained that to Duffy who is clearly more of a grown-up than I am because she didn’t know the colloquial meaning. I’m so proud of myself.] They argued that there is a national bestseller out there that will absolutely bias potential jury members and sharing anything from the search warrant process will add further damage.
Let’s dive into this a bit more.
The challenge with this whole discussion is that is based on principle not pragmatism. That’s probably one of the biggest challenges in face in America. Let me explain. Many years ago I had a chance to visit Israel. I didn’t have a lot of time and my host took me on a tour of Tel Aviv and Old Jaffa after dark. The juxtaposition of the old (Jaffa) and the new (Tel Aviv) really struck me. I asked my guide how Israel was able to build such a modern city in such a short time.
He explained, “In America, you have the luxury of time. You talk about ideas and principle and that often prevents you from getting things done. In Israel, we are pragmatic. We need to get things done. We care about principle and it’s something we discuss, but it does not prevent progress.” I never forgot that story. It’s helped me repeatedly over the years when I’ve been stuck on a principle when I’ve needed to be pragmatic instead. I’m literally applying that rule to my life right now by signing these damned separation papers from being laid off – even though I know what they are doing is wrong (principle), the reality is I need to move on and put this behind me (pragmatic). Yes, I am signing them today.
If we consider this case and embrace the principle while becoming pragmatic, some of these arguments fall apart.
- The jury could be tainted.
When you hurt dozens of people, it’s going to be tough to prevent folks from knowing what you’ve done. The defense is worried about the best seller but let’s be honest here, there are lots of books out there. They are all inaccurate in places. In fact, because this has gone on for decades, it’s pretty likely there’s as much bad information as there is good information out there. So this jury is going to have to act like any other jury and drop their assumptions at the door and listen to the evidence. That’s it. He chose to allegedly ransack, rape, kidnap and murder. Those action have consequences including media attention which he clearly sought. Pragmatically, let’s move on, this is what it is.
- Time matters in this case.
The defendant is old. His victims are aging (even me!). Time isn’t going to favor anyone in this process and if things are dragged out, the victims are the ones who are most likely to suffer. We need to move with some speed here. One of the things I’ve heard repeatedly from my fellow survivors is their need to be reconnected with “their stuff” – even if it’s only to know they found it on his property. The rapes can’t be prosecuted, but they can be validated. It would mean everything to a potential victim I spoke with to know her Driver’s License is in his possession. Her file has been lost, her rape kit gone and finding anything that connects him with her rape would give her the answers she’s sought for 38 years. I asked others and they share this point of view. If we have to wait for a trial – that won’t even include the rapes – they won’t get the answers they need.
- Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
The reality is, whatever they found in that house doesn’t matter. I mean it does – it DOES – but it doesn’t when it comes to proof of guilt. That’s because we have a DNA match for Ventura. As far as I’m concerned, the rest of the evidence is confirmation and validation. Spending all this time on privacy in this case, feels like we are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It isn’t particularly relevant. Other than protecting the identities of the victims, I can’t see why we shouldn’t see it all. The mere fact that there has been so much information almost requires some facts at this point.
Today we should see what is being released.
It’s taken over a month (you can see my little incarceration clock on the upper right of this blog). The lawyers for all three positions are going through each piece of information and agreeing, disagreeing and then the judge is deciding. We expect to get some kind of list with redactions but I hope there aren’t too many. It could be a hot mess. I’m not in court today – I’m finally back home – but I’ve made friends with some of the reporters and I’ll get a text when news breaks.
Meanwhile, I’m interested in your point of view on this process. What do you think? Please leave me a comment. I really enjoy the discussion.
2:3opm UPDATE: The judge has ruled to unseal anything pertaining to the murders and to keep sealed anything relating to the sex crimes (for now). We need to see what’s released, that’s coming very soon. Stand by!
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