As a journalist and communications professional, I have always believed that reporters and lawyers should follow the facts. As a reporter, I covered enough trials to know that most judges will not allow anything other than factual information to be admitted into evidence.
Nonetheless, when I got my morning Arizona Republic, I noticed a story about the defense attorneys for Jared Loughner requesting a postponement of the trial date for the accused murder until 2013 at the earliest. That would be two years after the alleged crimes were committed.
To refresh every one's memory, Loughner on January 8 allegedly killed six people, including U.S. District Judge Larry Burns, and critically wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a shooting spree in Tucson, AZ. He was tackled by some bystanders before he could inflict anymore damage on the others who were in attendance at a special event held by Rep. Giffords that day.
I count many members of the media and legal professions as good friends, but I have often expressed my frustration to them about the lack of logic and common sense displayed by both professions. The Loughner case in Arizona is a good example of this.
Everybody attending the event knows Jared Loughner was responsible for the shootings. He was seen there committing the crime by dozens of people and was tackled with the gun in his hand. The only thing left to determine is how his state of mind might affect the penalty phase of his trial. Why do we have to wait two years for a simple court-ordered psychological profile of this guy to be released in a trial? Why hasn't a judge already ordered one? Why aren't reporters asking these questions?
I covered trials as a reporter and once was a juror. Instead of being forums for determining the truth, trials often become nothing more than debate tournaments between opposing legal counsels. As for reporters covering trials, they seem to spend too much time highlighting the spectacle of the trial instead of getting to the facts.
Because of our legal system, I can't call Loughner a murderer, but the facts and common sense tell me there is no doubt that he is responsible for the killing of six people and the wounding of an additional 13. There is an old legal axiom that justice delayed is justice denied, so let's not force the families of the victims to wait an additional two years to have our legal system declare what everyone already knows happened on that tragic day in January.
I remember the first time I started questioning the rationality of our legal system and the media. Shortly after the Kennedy assassination, famous Texas defense attorney Melvin Belli decided to represent Jack Ruby, who shot and killed accused Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. As many may recall, the shooting was televised live across the country on the Sunday after the assassination in 1963. In one of his first public comments on his client, Belli declared that Ruby could not get a fair trial because everyone saw him do it.
Belli's statement stands today as the most absurd statement I have ever heard in my life, and I don't remember any reporter challenging him at that time. Since then, it seems that defying common sense has become a staple of both the legal and media professions.