A terrible injustice in Texas, and why liberals aren’t interested

What appears to have been a monstrous miscarriage of justice occurred in Texas with the 1986 conviction and subsequent 25 years imprisonment of Michael Morton for the murder his wife. Morton was released from prison last month (see photo of him breathing his first air as a free man) after further evidence—suppressed by the man who was both the prosecutor in the case and later the judge overseeing the case, Ken Anderson—indicated his innocence.

As David Paulin writes at American Thinker, the indications of horrible prosecutorial neglect or misconduct have only piled up since Morton’s release. Yet, as Paulin points out, “the nation’s liberal media outlets—CNN, the New York Times, and others who love to showcase abuses of power and miscarriages of justice, have ignored the case.” Why?

Paulin continues:

Perhaps the case lacks an essential element for them: race.

Michael Morton is white, as was his wife. So were the prosecutors who convicted him. What’s more, he was convicted in overwhelmingly white Williamson County by a jury that presumably was overwhelmingly white. All of this is at odds with the favorite liberal media narrative about horrific miscarriages of justice—that they’re typically committed by white prosecutors and white juries who allegedly harbor a racial animus against hapless black defendants and other minorities….

[Lou] Bryan, the distraught juror, is surely not unique in her anguish over convicting an innocent man. Her reaction reflects a bedrock value in America’s criminal justice system and, indeed, Western culture. “Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer,” observed famed English jurist William Blackstone….

Liberal media outlets may find the Morton case dull—not worthy of any showcase stories because in their minds, it fails to illuminate deeper problems in American society. But the perfect storm of events leading to Morton’s conviction will continue to play out for months in Texas, out of sight and mind of liberal media outlets that cannot further their political agendas by covering the story in a big way. It would be another matter entirely if Michael Morton was black.

Here’s the lesson: liberals, though they pretend otherwise, do not oppose injustice. They only oppose “oppression”—the putative oppression of blacks by whites, or of the poor by the rich. For liberals/leftists, the only injustice is group inequality of results, and the only justice is group equality of results. And since they have defined America as group inequality of results, the only way that leftist “justice” can be attained is by oppressing whites, oppressing wealth producers, and destroying America.

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Ken Hechtman writes:

What do you mean, liberals aren’t interested in Michael Morton? Who do you think got him out of jail? It was the Innocence Project.

LA replies:

Yes. The Innocence Project helps prisoners who say they were wrongly convicted. And the people running it are liberals. But that does not change the fact the American Thinker author pointed to, that the liberal media seemed to take no interest in the Morton story.

Here’s a way to understand it. Think of how the ACLU proceeds on two tracks: on one track, the ACLU helps individuals who legitimately need legal help, while on the other track the ACLU is a radical liberal organization whose agenda is to destroy whatever remains of traditional America. Similarly, some liberals, like those at the Innocence Project, help people who need help, even as liberals as a whole pursue the larger liberal agenda.

James B. writes:

I first heard the statement in high school as, “Better a hundred guilty go free than one innocent man go to jail.”

I remember my response as, “Better one innocent man go to jail than a hundred thugs move into my neighborhood.” The real problem we have was best expressed by the St. Louis Post Dispatch in a front page article. It was a story about a car thief who was finally convicted of car theft and was being sent to prison for x number of years. The story explained that the man had been arrested 22 times before for car theft and had never been sentenced to prison. So perhaps we should change the statement to “Better a thief go to jail after the first offense than after the 22nd offense.”

November 23

Paul Nachman writes:

Commenter James B. wrote, in part:

I first heard the [Blackstone] statement in high school as, “Better a hundred guilty go free than one innocent man go to jail.”

I remember my response as, “Better one innocent man go to jail than a hundred thugs move into my neighborhood.”

I applaud James B.’s skepticism about the Blackstone remark, and it brings to mind the following from the Wall Street Journal opinion page sometime in 1999, quoting Steven E. Landsburg in Slate:

Two hundred years ago, a lawyer named William Blackstone said it’s better for 10 guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to suffer. And for two centuries, legal scholars have considered Blackstone’s pronouncement a profound statement of principle. Apparently, none of these scholars has thought to ask the obvious follow-up question, namely, why 10? Why wasn’t it 12 or eight? The answer, of course, is that Blackstone invented a number out of thin air. That kind of flippancy amounts to a defiant refusal to think seriously about the trade-offs involved in designing a criminal justice system. But for 200 years, legal scholars have cited Blackstone’s refusal to think and mistaken it for an example of a thought.

There’s nothing profound about recognizing a trade-off between convicting the innocent and acquitting the guilty. The hard part is deciding how many false acquittals you’re willing to accept to avoid a false conviction. That number matters. It matters whether it is 10 or 12 or eight, because every time we rewrite a criminal statute or modify the rules of evidence, we are adjusting the terms of the trade-off. So it’s got to be worth it to think about what terms we want to aim for.

[end of Landsburg quote]

Indeed, how would people react to the Blackstone statement if the number he’d used had been, say, 1,000, instead of ten? My view: Even the innocent-but-accused wouldn’t want to live in a society wherein—to foreclose the possibility of wrongful conviction and incarceration—the odds of the guilty getting off were systematically so high, since such a society would be brutishly unlivable.

Of course, this takes nothing away from being outraged by—I assume—gross prosecutorial misconduct in this Texas case. I’m simply reacting to the invocation of Blackstone’s “wisdom.”

November 24

Clark Coleman writes:

When I first read about the Michael Morton case at VFR a few weeks ago, an odd association arose in my mind. I have seen a lot of TV shows about the Border Patrol. They often catch up to a gaggle of illegal aliens who were obviously carrying packs of drugs (usually big bales of marijuana) on their backs. But the bales have been ditched in the underbrush shortly before the Border Patrol runs them down (generally at night). The announcer informs us that the evidence that the pot belongs to the illegal aliens who were caught a few yards away is merely circumstantial, so no drug smuggling charges will be pressed. Instead, the pot is seized, the aliens are fingerprinted and photographed and returned to their native Mexico.

But, every time I read of some great injustice in a murder case, as with Michael Morton, it is blithely reported that the conviction was based on circumstantial evidence. The prosecutor had no qualms about pursuing such a case, and the jurors were willing to convict on mere circumstantial evidence.

Does anyone see a contradiction here?

LA replies:

For the moment, just one point. There is nothing improper or out of ordinary in convicting a defendant on circumstantial evidence. The notion that circumstantial evidence is “not enough” to convict is a recent notion, stemming from the development of high tech forensic science, particularly DNA profiling, which has given people the idea that only physical evidence is enough to convict. This incorrect belief is the reason, e.g., that Casey Anthony got off. The jurors, having been fed a steady diet of CSI-type TV shows, wanted something more than circumstantial evidence, even though, as I understand, the circumstantial evidence overwhelmingly pointed to Anthony’s guilt.

The problem with the conviction of Michael Morton was not that the evidence was only circumstantial, but that the circumstantial evidence was not sufficient, and that there was other evidence that the prosecutor and later judge did not pursue or did not allow to be brought forward.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 21, 2011 12:45 PM | Send

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