Reasons for the three year delay in the Draymond Coleman murder trial

The other day we discussed the July 2006 murder in which a 300 pound career criminal named Draymond Coleman induced the 5”1’, 18-year-old, intoxicated, and distraught Jennifer Moore to get in a cab with him on the West Side of Manhattan, whence he took her to his hotel room in Weehawken, New Jersey, where he raped and sodomized her then beat and strangled her to death while his 20 year old hooker girl friend Krystal Riordan looked on. We wondered about the disposition of the case, and a reader sent a January 26, 2009 item from, which included this:

WHAT’S NEXT: Indicted for their roles in the murder, Coleman and Riordan remain in the Hudson County Jail. Coleman’s bail is $2 million and Riordan’s is $1 million.

“We expect to go to trial late spring or early fall,” said Michael D’Andrea, an assistant Hudson County prosecutor.

Meaning that over three years will have passed between the arrest of Coleman in July 2006 and the beginning of his trial in perhaps fall 2009. And all this time for an open-and-shut case in which the suspect was taped by a security camera bringing the victim into the hotel, and was arrested the day after the murder because he was using the victim’s cell phone.

I wrote back to the reader:

Late spring or early fall? What happened to the summer? Does the criminal justice system in New Jersey shut down between June 21 and September 21? It’s horrible. In a well ordered society, after a murder like this, there would be a trial within a few months at most.

So I called Michael D’Andrea at the Hudson County Prosecutor’s office yesterday. He was very informative and readily told me the reasons for the long time it takes to get to trial.

First, this was a capital indictment, and New Jersey had been in the process of eliminating capital punishment. Even though no one has been executed in New Jersey for 30 or 40 years, all capital cases were held in abeyance until the new law was passed last year, which replaced the death penalty with life without parole. That was a year’s delay.

Also, various motions were made, including pre-trial motions and 15 to 20 motions made by defense, each of which took time to resolve.

Then there was extensive forensic testing, which took time.

Also, the computer forensic specialists had to get the hard drive of the computer system in the hotel where the murder took place and that took time. It also took time to get hotel hard drive compatible with the computers of the attorneys.

Then the judge was transferred away from the case, and it started all over with another judge who had to be brought up to speed.

When I expressed my dismay that a straightforward murder case should take several years to come to trial, Mr. D’Andrea said: “You don’t want to rush to judgment, you should want to give defendants the chance to avail themselves of all constitutional protections. You don’t want mistakes to be made.”

One thing I did not ask him about: he had made it sound as though each of these delays occurred consecutively instead of concurrently. Do the prosecutors wait for one thing to be resolved, such as a defense motion, and only then proceed to another thing, such as getting the hard drive of the hotel compatible with attorneys’ computers, instead of dealing with these tasks at the same time? That was the way it sounded. It seems clear to me that the criminal justice system’s idea of proper and just procedure is not to bring an accused murderer to trial while the murder is still fresh, but to stretch things out as long as humanly possible, to make everyone wait until the murder has become a distant thing in the past and the victim’s body has long since rotted in the ground.

I also asked Mr. D’Andrea why the trial could not start during the summer. He said that summer is a difficult time to pick a jury, especially for a long trial. Police officers, medical professionals and so on are away on vacation. However, short trials are conducted in the summer.

- end of initial entry -

Leonard D. writes:

One possible reason why the prosecution is so lackadaisical in this case is that the longer they wait, the more bitter Krystal Riordan may become at her situation. Perhaps they need her testimony. The evidence they have makes a charge of murder two a sure thing. But maybe not rape, and not murder one. Riordan’s testimony is probably the only thing they have for those.

One other reason is, they’ve got the guy behind bars already, and he’s not going anywhere. What’s the rush? Certainly the most important function (to my mind) of the criminal justice system is being served, namely that Coleman has been removed from society. If I were less certain of his guilt, then I’d be more concerned about the wait. But since I’m not… I’m not. Presumably, if his lawyer thought he had a chance to get anything less than life in prison, he might not tie up the system with those 15-20 motions.

There are lower-importance ends that we seek via criminal justice, which long delays do degrade. Those are: the use of the system to make examples, as a generalized deterrent, especially in high-profile cases. And also plain old eye-for-an-eye retribution. I am curious to know your thoughts on the matter.

LA replies:

You write:

“Certainly the most important function (to my mind) of the criminal justice system is being served, namely that Coleman has been removed from society.”

I disagree. When it comes to murder, at least equal in importance to the removal of the criminal from society is the imposition of JUSTICE. The deserved PUNISHMENT of the malefactor who committed the ultimate crime of taking another person’s life. The families of murder victims are put through hell by the modern criminal justice system because of the long delays, and often the minimal sentences imposes on the guilty.

At the same time, in the absence of capital punishment there can be no true justice in any case. I fully agree with the pro-life movement that a society that allows mass abortion is profoundly immoral. But few people agree with my view, that a society that prohibits capital punishment for murderers is profoundly immoral. Even the proponents of capital punishment today rarely argue for it on the basis of JUSTICE.

Leonard D. replies:

It seems that you rate retribution higher than the other goals. And you want that retribution to include death for murderers, which I agree with you on in the abstract, although I am not very keen for it in our current justice system because too many mistakes are made.

Be that as it may, in this case death is not possible. Thus, the maximum retribution that New Jersey is preparing to visit on Coleman is life in prison without parole. He’s in prison now, indefinitely until trial. He’s already being punished to the maximum extent they are prepared to punish him.

What does a trial get you? What you will get (a sentence of life in prison, hopefully without parole), you’re already getting. Well, you’re getting it excepting the sentencing part. I will admit that a judge telling Coleman “you’ll be locked up for the rest of your life” does punish him a little bit, in that it may crush irrational hopes that he still may have of beating the system. But that’s not really much, and I doubt it’s what you’re think of when you write PUNISHMENT. So I guess that it is the sentencing itself that you want.

LA replies:

No, there’s more to this case than what you’re saying. We don’t know that he’ll get life without parole. Another commenter suggested that one of the reasons for the long delay in coming to trial is the hope of coaxing a fuller confession from Krystal Riordan, so as to assure a Murder One conviction (with a punishment of life without parole) for Coleman rather than Murder Two. So it’s not assured that he’ll get life without parole. Nothing is assured in murder cases.

I have watched many of the excellent and informative murder documentary programs on cable TV, such as “Snapped” and “Forensic Files.” Even if life without parole rather than death is the maximum sentence, that means an enormous amount to the families of the victims. When a brutal murderer gets off with say 15 years which might be reduced to ten, it is devastating to the family.

I am not saying that the feelings of the family ought to be dispositive (though of course they should not be ignored, particularly with regard to the need for avoiding unnecessary delays in a case coming to trial). I am saying that, in a nihilistic society such as ours, a society that lacks a true sense of morality and justice, a society that sees a murder as a “tragedy” or a “random incident” rather than as the ultimate transgression of the moral law, the closest we come to a sense of justice in these cases is the feelings of the family. Their passionate desire that the maximum sentence be imposed, their inexpressible sense of relief when it is imposed, their agony and suffering when it is not imposed and the murderer gets off with a light sentence or no sentence at all—this, it seems to me, is our society’s only remaining index of justice.

In the old days, before modern liberalism took over, the whole society cared deeply about the need for just retribution against a murderer. But now that the public, shared sense of justice in our society has been lost, only the victim’s family cares.

March 27

David B. writes:

Here is the wikipedia entry for Hudson County, New Jersey. It says that by 2005, the population was 34.6 percent non-Hispanic whites, 15.1 percent black, 11 percent Asian, 41 percent Hispanic (many of these Cuban), two percent “other.”

In a place like this, the legal system runs suspects through an assembly line of plea bargaining. Trials are delayed a long time because there is a big backlog. This is where the trial for the murder of Jennifer Moore will be held.

Lydia McGrew writes:

You wrote:

But few people agree with my view, that a society that prohibits capital punishment for murderers is profoundly immoral. Even the proponents of capital punishment today rarely argue for it on the basis of JUSTICE.

I emphatically agree with you. The notion of mandatory mercy has made a joke of justice in our society. In fact, if capital punishment is not a matter of justice, it shouldn’t be done at all. Utilitarian ends could also, in bizarre but conceivable circumstances, justify executing a man known to be innocent. So utilitarian considerations should not be paramount; considerations of justice should be. But in that case, mercy (pardon, commutation of a capital sentence, etc.) should be meted out only very sparingly. If capital punishment is a matter of justice, it should be carried out by the governmental authority with consistency and rigor. We have gone far, far wrong on this.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 26, 2009 08:41 PM | Send

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