Unreliable Witnesses 2/27/23

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

Her father, she told me, was a rather powerful and well-known attorney. And he used to rape her. In doing so, he set her up for failure. To deal with the trauma, she turned to drugs and alcohol. To pay for her addiction along with another young (and underage) woman in the same boat. To make back his money for the drugs, he pimped them out.

By the time I met her, she was clean and sober. She had fought the addiction and won, and is one of the most intelligent people I’d ever have the pleasure of knowing. Today she has her medical degree in veterinary medicine, and a Ph.D. in the same. But back then, we were just chemistry majors in the same undergraduate institution.

The other woman wasn’t as lucky. Convinced that one of the two had sold him out to the police, he came home one night, livid, waving around a gun and screaming at the two of them. Without knowing which one did it, or any proof that either had done so, he simply shot the other woman in the head, randomly choosing. It could have just as easily been this remarkable friend.

The police never charged him. He shot her in cold blood in front of my friend, and no doubt they arrested him, but he wasn’t charged with murder. They said that there was no credible witness to charge him with her murder. This was the moment that she realized that she had to clean herself up, or she would die there. It might not be immediately, but eventually her lifestyle would be the death of her.

Having had four of his children, my wife and her then-husband were both alcoholics. Going shopping one day, she came home to find that while he was watching the children, he fell asleep on the couch with the gas stove on, and a small fire was just starting as a result. That was when she made the decision to leave him and get dry.

He lived a good twenty minutes away in a little acreage on a lake. He saw the boys every weekend, on alternating weeks for one afternoon, or for the entire weekend. On one of his long weekends, the boys had some kind of event in town and he drove them back on Sunday with the plan that he would come back to collect them after the event was over. At home, they told their mother, then my wife, that he was drunk when he picked them up on Saturday and fell asleep on the drive to his house.

On the road, they realized that he had fallen asleep at the wheel. The boy in the front seat grabbed the steering wheel, while all of them screamed at him trying to wake him up. Fortunately, they were successful and there was no crash, but my wife was livid. She vented with me and came to the decision (against my personal judgment) that she was never going to let him take them again. A reasonable decision, but beyond her authority and a violation of the terms of the divorce.

They ended up in court, but they never allowed the boys to testify. Because of their age, they were not credible witnesses (they were between the ages of six and ten). Of course, he had cleaned himself up for the trial, and proudly announced his work with Alcoholics Anonymous, and touting the number of times he had been asked to speak at the meetings. Ultimately, he was successful at painting himself as the victim, and my wife as the “bad guy”.

I have been involved in meetings with attorney generals as they debated cases and whether or not they should be prosecuted. We discussed items like credibility of witnesses and potential defense tactics that could be used. Rarely did the concept of guilt ever come up.

Attorney General is an elected position, and one of the election points that is often quoted is percent success in prosecutions. This means that the goal is to prosecute only those cases that would be successful regardless of whether or not there’s strong evidence of guilt. The witnesses are judged by the prosecutors and detectives long before the suspect ever has to stand for judgment. Our judicial system leaves much to be desired, even though it is probably one of the best systems in the world. I fully support the concept of “innocent until proven guilty”, but the idea of elected prosecuting attorneys has the effect of turning the court into a type of sporting event. To stay in the game, the attorney general has to score more points in the courtroom than others.

There has to be a better way. Maybe as citizens we need to give credit for trying people, even if it’s likely to be close, because putting them on trial is simply the right thing to do. The idea that people aren’t worthy and won’t sway a jury of peers is, frankly, offensive. These cases should have been pursued. People should always be treated with respect, and ultimately, it’s not supposed to be up to the attorneys to decide the case.


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