Saturday, May 27, 2017

Justice is supposed to be blind, but blind to what?

Justice is blind. We've all heard that phrase. It's supposed to mean blind to outside influences. So that justice is served.

But it can also sometimes mean that justice blind to the truth.

I've been thinking about this after reading the story of the man arrested by Detroit police for a killing based on ballistics that it turns out were faulty. Unfortunately for him, it took 25 years for the truth to come out, and now he's been released from prison.

I've covered a lot of criminal trials and I've been on the scenes of countless arrests and while I've seen a few injustices most of the people I've met in the criminal justice community are basically honest people trying to do a good job.

But sometimes people let their passion get in the way of that.

This story is making me recollect about a cop in Highland Park, Michigan, an enclave of Detroit He was sent on a trip by the same Wayne County prosecutor's office that tried Desmond Ricks a quarter-of-a-century ago that ended in his conviction and incarceration until yesterday when a judge threw the charges out.

There'd been a homicide in Highland Park and an eyewitness identified a former resident who now lived down South and had been visiting kin in Highland Park sometime around the time of the killing. A warrant was issued, he was arrested in Tennessee or Mississippi or whatever state he was living and working in and there was an extradition order issued.

The Highland Park detective was dispatched to pick him up and return him for trial. It was a two-day job. Go down. Meet the prisoner. Get some shut-eye. And fly back the next day.

When he got there the young man told him through the bars of his jail cell that he didn't do it, which is what almost every guilty man says. But something about his story, or maybe because there was nothing else to do to pass the time of day, prompted the detective to check out the alibi.

So he went to the factory where the guy worked and low and behold, the alibi checked out. He was working there, I don't know how many states away, when the guy was shot dead on the streets of Highland Park.

That prompted him to go back to his motel room and phone the assistant Wayne County prosecutor on the case who promptly told him he'd been sent down there to pick the guy up, not investigate. He was told to bring back his prisoner as previously ordered.

Which he did, and the fine folks of Wayne County Michigan paid for the trip for two. And then paid to house him in the Wayne County Jail. And then for his arraignment at which time he was assigned a court appointed attorney. Who the defendant gave the detective's business card, or as the detective likes to call it, his "get out of jail card."

Back to the Wayne County Jail he went until his preliminary exam where, to the surprise of the assistant prosecutor, the defense called a witness for the prosecution, the very detective who had gone down South to pick up the suspect. After he was sworn in and told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the defense moved for dismissal and, there being no objection, the judge so ordered.

Turns out the actual gunman bore a strong resemblance to the man they extradited so it was a case of mistaken identity. But one that could have been rectified without disrupting the young man's life had the prosecutor done his job and informed the court that they had the wrong guy. It would have saved the taxpayers some money too.

It's not known whether Desmond Ricks spent the better part of his adult life up until now in prison because he was framed or because of poor ballistic science. I hope he's able to get his life back on track now. He says he wants to become, "a law-abiding citizen, work, pay taxes."  I've often wondered what became of the young man who very nearly was also wrongly convicted for a murder he didn't commit in Highland Park.

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