If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try, try, try again.
May 10, 2012 12:53 PM   Subscribe

If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try, try, try again: black Mississippi man tried six times for the same crime.
posted by Evilspork (33 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Prosecutorial misconduct led to the reversal of three convictions. Not only has that misbehavior gone unpunished, the same prosecutor has been prosecuting the same defendant with the same evidence for 15 years now.

Your tax dollars at work.
posted by mek at 12:57 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Kafkaesque" is thrown around a little too much, but there's no other word for this.
posted by theodolite at 1:00 PM on May 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


The conviction getting overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct isn't the same thing as being acquitted, I don't think, and mistrials also don't mean acquittal. I don't think this counts as double (or sextuple) jeopardy.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:01 PM on May 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Two weeks for a capital murder trial is approaching NASCAR pitcrew-like efficiency.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:15 PM on May 10, 2012


They fucked up, the trail is cold, someone higher up than the prosecutor should step in and end this.
posted by Slackermagee at 1:16 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think this counts as double (or sextuple) jeopardy.

It doesn't. He's been convicted every time, only to have the conviction reversed on appeal and a new trial ordered. There is no theoretical limit to the number of times this can happen, though at some point a sensible prosecutor would just write it off as a bad job and throw in the towel.

A jury needn't even hand out consistent sentences afterward, i.e., he could get twenty years one time, death the next time, and life the time after that. See Wasman v. U.S., 468 U.S. 559 (1984).
posted by valkyryn at 1:17 PM on May 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Wow, Byron De La Beckworth only got three!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:18 PM on May 10, 2012


I unsubscribed from Reason's rss feeds because the times I disagreed with the editors was more aggravating than the good articles I got from them, but this is a great story told well.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:24 PM on May 10, 2012


Actually, I mean, it's a fucking nightmare all around but told well.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:24 PM on May 10, 2012


[When you flag, you must move on.]
posted by jessamyn at 1:36 PM on May 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Sounds like the court system wants to make sure if he's sentenced to death that they are damn sure that everything is by the book. Isn't this how things are supposed to work?
posted by ferdinand.bardamu at 1:42 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


He's been convicted every time, only to have the conviction reversed on appeal
Well, he's actually been convicted 2/3rds of the time, not every time. The other two trials ended in hung juries.
posted by Lame_username at 1:49 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even though I'm not a strict fan of the double jeopardy rule, I don't see how this is trying the man twice for the same crime. Each of the trials before has either been annulled or failed to complete. Surely double jeopardy only counts if the first trial ran its course and is considered sound. Were that not the case then causing a mistrial would be a great way to avoid punishment.
posted by Jehan at 1:53 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ok, I'll try again.

Headline is misleading. No double, let alone sextuple, jeopardy.
posted by ferdinand.bardamu at 1:55 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


They lost me here:
“There is something shocking about the state repeatedly trying a case until it gets a jury to follow its will”
They appear to have gotten that right out of the gate and three out of five other times, so it's really not about "The State" working overtime to get what they want. The real failing on the state's part is that they're not moving some portion of the prosecution team to positions where their procedural and organizational skills will do more good for the taxpayers. Something like custodial work at rest areas for example.

And then Kid Charlemagne died of a horrible disease he got because he didn't wash his hands properly because the soap dispenser at a Mississippi rest area was empty. Boy, was his face red.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:58 PM on May 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


Surely double jeopardy only counts if the first trial ran its course and is considered sound.

Jeopardy has never concluded, he's been convicted each time or ended in a hung jury (which requires a new trial). Jeopardy is not over until there is an aquittal or judicial dismissal. The remands have all apparenlty been to hold a new trial based on various misconduct (I didn't read the whole thing and it doesn't appear to get technical), the court on appeal has never taken what would be an extraordinary appellate action to dismiss the indictment. The process appears broken somehow here, but if anything, the state is taking a chance of losing the conviction entirely if he's ever aquitted at one of these repeated trials, as an aquittal really would invoke double jeopardy (at long last).
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:13 PM on May 10, 2012


Headline is misleading. No double, let alone sextuple, jeopardy.

I specifically avoided using the word "jeopardy". He has been in six trials, which is what I was trying to impart.
posted by Evilspork at 2:18 PM on May 10, 2012


Headline is misleading. No double, let alone sextuple, jeopardy.

Technically, you're right.

It's just seems fairly pedantic to object to this characterisation in this context when a child can see what's wrong here.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:23 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I specifically avoided using the word "jeopardy". He has been in six trials, which is what I was trying to impart.

Your presentation in the FPP was fine, but the article is titled "Sextuple Jeopardy." It does seem a bit disingenuous from the start when the article is implying that a bedrock constitutional protection has been violated, when what is in fact happening is, at worst, a disturbing lack of prosecutorial competence and discretion.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 2:25 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I specifically avoided using the word "jeopardy". He has been in six trials, which is what I was trying to impart.

Well, Reason did use the word.
posted by ferdinand.bardamu at 2:26 PM on May 10, 2012


It's just seems fairly pedantic to object to this characterisation in this context when a child can see what's wrong here.

It's not pedantic. Double jeopardy is a reference to a specific procedural protection that criminal defendants have. That protection hasn't been violated here. It's taking such broad liberties with the characterization of the facts that it's almost a lie.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 2:28 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Geez, folks, speaking of Kafka-esque....

But seriously, thinking about the situation some more, I kept coming back to this [numbering mine]:
“Somebody needs to take over this prosecution, and the [state] attorney general is the natural option,” he says. “The trouble is, attorneys general are loath to take cases out of the hands of the prosecutor. To get them to move aside is to:
  1. imply lack of objectivity, or that they’re out of their depth, or
  2. that they’ve made mistakes, or
  3. that they are racially biased."

Um, check, check, AND check.
Nobody in the state of Mississippi wants to make those claims.

Ohhhh.... It's funny how it seems that people involved are more than willing to treat folks in a different group like they aren't even the same species or something but aren't willing to hurt the feelings of the incompetents of their own kind. And by funny, I mean... well, not.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:35 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Your presentation in the FPP was fine, but the article is titled "Sextuple Jeopardy."

...

Well, Reason did use the word.


D'oh, yeah, I forgot about that. Carry on!
posted by Evilspork at 2:41 PM on May 10, 2012


Two weeks for a capital murder trial is approaching NASCAR pitcrew-like efficiency.

Not really. Note the investigation took more than 6 months before an arrest was made. Why would you expect a capital murder trial to take longer than 2 weeks?

It's just seems fairly pedantic to object to this characterisation in this context when a child can see what's wrong here.

It's thanks to people being pedantic that his conviction has been appealed so many times and he's still alive. It would be just as easy to point at the circumstantial evidence and say that 'a child could see he's guilty,' which has happened more often than not on a historical scale.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:44 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Four people were killed in a single shooting incident at the store, and yet the DA decided to prosecute the accused in four separate trials, one for each murder. How is that not effectively double jeopardy? That he would be convicted of, say, murder #4 completely independently of the outcome of the other three murder cases which happened seconds apart from each other?

No wonder the case has so many problems; it looks like they tried to use each set of three deaths (and circumstantial evidence, and unreliable witness recollections) as a reason to convince a jury that he committed the fourth killing. This crime has been tried multiple times by having separate court cases for each piece of it. No wonder he's gotten so many convictions overturned - a prosecution error made in one case was probably made in the others also, since it's the same case.
posted by ceribus peribus at 2:49 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jeopardy has never concluded, he's been convicted each time or ended in a hung jury (which requires a new trial). Jeopardy is not over until there is an aquittal or judicial dismissal.

Ah, thanks. My conception of the problem is slightly wrong then. I was under the impression that if convicted properly jeopardy counts, and it is the subsequent annulling of the verdict here which means there is no double jeopardy.
posted by Jehan at 3:03 PM on May 10, 2012


Actually, on reading more closely, that was only the prosecution's strategy for trials 1 and 2, which were overturned largely based on the fact that they were presenting evidence for all four murders in order to prosecute just one murder. Starting in trial 3, they started prosecuting all deaths at the same time. My bad.

Still, when the defendant was found guilty in 2/3 of the cases keep in mind that the convictions correspond to the cases where the prosecution was guilty of the most glaring instances of misconduct. If I understand the situation right (and I probably don't, I'm no lawyer), this guy has yet to receive a fair trial.
posted by ceribus peribus at 3:08 PM on May 10, 2012


Re: Jeopardy vs. not, I don't think it's necessarily pedantic to point out (rightly) that double jeopardy does not strictly come into play here. Rather, I think it's too bad that the article sort of threw out this straw man, because the rest of the content is no less compelling once you get past that technicality.

What a horrible experience, for everyone involved. This was the most telling part of the article, to me:
At this point, [the prosecutor]—who ran unopposed for re-election in 2011—certainly can’t walk away. Through six trials he has spent more than $300,000 in taxpayer money. He has nailed his feet to the floor. Asked about the case’s critics, he questions their motives.
You're just left wanting some sort of oversight process that throws people like this out of practice forever. I feel bad for everyone who still has to be tied up in this case.
posted by Brak at 3:54 PM on May 10, 2012


I feel like, okay, he hasn't actually had the jeopardy/double jeopardy rights violated, sure, but I think we might have missed "swift and speedy trial" somewhere in here.

I'll grand that this notion has long since fallen out of favor in our actual court systems, but this one goes a bit beyond that usual pale.
posted by Archelaus at 5:00 PM on May 10, 2012


I think we might have missed "swift and speedy trial" somewhere in here.

I'll grand that this notion has long since fallen out of favor in our actual court systems, but this one goes a bit beyond that usual pale.


Actually... no. Criminal charges are normally tried very quickly, especially when compared to civil suits, which can drag on for years. Decades even. No, if the cops are going to hold you for more than a day or two, they generally need to bring an indictment. And once that indictment is issued, the prosecution has, at best, a few months to bring the case to trial. For example, according to the Indiana Rules of Criminal Procedure, a defendant may not be held for more than six months before trial. If a trial does not commence within that time, the charges are dismissed. Further, the defendant can make a motion for an early trial, in which case the prosecution only has seventy days. That's pretty damned speedy by the standards of the legal system. Heck, seventy days may be as soon as the court has a free spot in its schedule. I've got things on my calendar in civil court well into 2013.

As a lawyer who practices primarily in civil matters, I can tell you that it is far from uncommon to have a matter in federal court postponed because the criminal docket is backing up or because the US Attorney has brought a new case. If those cases don't get tried, they go away. This is less common in state court because many state court judges hear either criminal or civil cases, but not both.

The criminal justice system is deeply broken in many ways, but this isn't really one of them. This is a highly unusual case.
posted by valkyryn at 5:56 AM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Isn't there some process in place to disbar this prosecutor on the grounds of incompetence, abuse of power or both?

Even if the defendant is guilty, which is far from certain, keeping these emotional wounds open and constantly refilled with fresh salt for 15 years isn't serving any justice to anyone.
posted by double block and bleed at 6:08 AM on May 11, 2012


Isn't there some process in place to disbar this prosecutor on the grounds of incompetence, abuse of power or both?

Not really. Legal malpractice is, generally speaking, a tough road to hoe, and I've never heard of a prosecutor suffering that unless he did something like perjure himself or violate the rules of criminal procedure or professional conduct. Don't see that's happened here.

Even if the defendant is guilty, which is far from certain, keeping these emotional wounds open and constantly refilled with fresh salt for 15 years isn't serving any justice to anyone.

Granted.
posted by valkyryn at 7:48 AM on May 11, 2012


Isn't there some process in place to disbar this prosecutor on the grounds of incompetence, abuse of power or both?

Really, the remedy is for the voters of Montgomery County to vote out the District Attorney who greenlighted this sad case and whose office mishandled it. This is bigger than one line prosecutor's bad judgment.
posted by *s at 9:38 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


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