Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cable TV `expert' Nancy Grace leading the lynch mob against Scott Peterson

This is a Knight Ridder/Tribune article by Mark Bowden, published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Truer commentary has never been written. Good work, Mr. Bowden, for nailing Ms. Grace and all the other so-called experts who contributed to the wrongful conviction of Scott Peterson.

Cable TV `expert' Nancy Grace leading the lynch mob against Scott Peterson

Byline: Mark Bowden

I was half listening to the comfortable drone of CNN's "Larry King Live" show last week when something made me look up from my book.

Nancy Grace, a former Atlanta prosecutor who appears often on King's show as a legal expert, was coolly eviscerating Scott Peterson, who is suspected of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci, and dumping her body in the ocean. Peterson is awaiting trial, but Grace already seems indignant about his guilt. She's not alone. Prosecutorial leaks have been building a case against Peterson for months, and after the bodies of Laci and her unborn son washed up on a California beach last month, the case ratcheted up to the level of national obsession.

The cable TV talk show circus surrounding such high-profile murder cases is an unseemly show, a genuine high-tech lynching, with "experts" such as Grace leading the mob to the courthouse.

Then, during last week's show, out of the blue, Peterson's father, Lee, called to object.

"You've had your say here for months and you've crucified my son on national media," Peterson said. "And he's a wonderful man. You have no idea of his background and what a wonderful son and wonderful man he is. You have no knowledge of that and you sit there as a judge and jury . . . convicting him on national media. And you should absolutely be ashamed of that."

Grace replied: "I'm simply stating what has been leaked or what has been put in formal documents. If you find them disturbing, I suggest you ask your son about some of them, sir."

"There you go, Nancy; look at this look on Nancy's face," Peterson said. "You absolutely hate my son."

Peterson was right about that. The look on Grace's face was a scary thing to see. She was being challenged and upbraided in public, a direct assault on her image and considerable ambition, and if looks could shoot blue bolts through a television screen, anyone watching would have been barbecued.

She denied hating Scott Peterson, but there was no denying her feral expression. She visibly trembled with fury. Peterson had her dead to rights.

Journalists have been guilty of aggressively prejudging defendants in sensational murders throughout the profession's colorful and oft-inglorious history, but nothing from the craft's yellowest heritage outdoes the blood-lust marathons conducted nowadays on cable TV by these "experts." The way to distinguish yourself in this market is to have fangs _ and it helps, as with Grace, if you surround them with a head of puffy blond hair and a pretty face.

Grace is typical of a whole category of "expert" commentators who help fill cable TV's insatiable appetite for speculation and opinion. The idea isn't to weigh matters dispassionately and judiciously; it's more like a fox hunt. The "experts" are the hounds who run the suspect SOB to the ground and then bay for permission to dismember him, whether he's a public figure such as U.S. Rep. Gary Condit or the current guilty-seeming guy-next-door, Scott Peterson.

Lee Peterson picked the right person to call. Grace embodies an alarming new style of reporter, the prosecutorial journalist.

Before hosting her own show on Court TV, Grace was a highly successful prosecutor in the Fulton County District Attorney's Office. She is also something of a self-promoter, and is given to overstatement. Her bio on the Court TV Internet site notes that she "served as special prosecutor of major felony cases involving serial murder, serial rape, serial child molestation, and arson. Ms. Grace compiled a perfect record of nearly 100 felony convictions at trial and no losses."

Successfully prosecuting mere murder, rape and child molestation cases would be impressive enough, but Grace's defendants were super-bad; they weren't just offenders, they were "serial" offenders. One wonders how many serial murder, rape and child molestations crop up in Atlanta. At least one of her most celebrated cases - a mere single murder case - was unanimously overturned by the Georgia Supreme Court. Chief Justice Robert Benham wrote that Grace "engaged in an extensive pattern of inappropriate and, in some cases, illegal conduct in the course of this trial." One of her alleged improprieties was inviting a CNN camera crew (profiling her) to tape her at the crime scene. Lawyers who lost cases against Grace complain that in her eagerness to win cases, she showed little concern about making sure the defendant got a fair trial.

This is the kind of allegation often made by frustrated defense lawyers against successful prosecutors, but it does suggest a pattern. If you were accused of a crime, you wouldn't want Grace prosecuting you in the courtroom, and you certainly wouldn't want her prosecuting you in absentia by proxy on national TV.

Her bio says she's now studying constitutional criminal law at New York University. One hopes it still has a semester on the presumption of innocence.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Beyond Emotional Doubt - the new standard?

Beyond reasonable doubt, that's supposed to be the standard for conviction. But that's not what happened in the Scott Peterson trial. I found this startling observation about what kind of jurors the DA would want in jury selection:

According to Modesto attorney Richard Herman, the prosecutor “wants somebody who will think emotionally and not logically, and who will dutifully listen to evidence. It’s an emotionally charged case, and you’d give more weight to limited circumstantial evidence because of your emotional reservoir.”
(Source: "Do they want you? Peterson trial jury selection begins this morning," Oakland Tribune, March 4, 2004)

That about sums it up, Beyond Emotional Doubt definitely was the standard used to convict Scott Peterson.

There were only 2 pieces of evidence that linked Scott Peterson to the murders of Laci and Conner: 1) The recovery locations, reduced to zero value because the MPD publicized Scott's fishing location very early on, giving anyone plenty of time to know where to dispose of the bodies; and 2)the hair in the pliers, reduced to zero value because hair is so easily transferred and the lab technician testified unequivocally that the pliers hadn't been used recently enough to be a factor in the crimes.

All the rest of the evidence was directed at an emotional conviction.