April 4, 1997

A Fair Trial

Justice? What does that have to do with the law?

Old saying among lawyers

Timothy McVeigh told his defense team that he blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City and that he did it during the day because he wanted lots of people killed. He also told them about the complicity of Terry Nichols. It is still not clear how that information was obtained, but it is apparently authentic, despite the defense lawyers having concocted some story about it being a hoax that the defense lawyers set up in an attempt to detect an information leak.

Defense lawyers are now screaming that McVeigh and Nichols can't get a fair trial. To many defense lawyers, a fair trial means that, regardless of whether the defendant committed the crime, he is entitled to a chance to hornswoggle a jury as O.J. Simpson's lawyers did. That is what they consider a fair trial. To those lawyers, a trial is a contest between two groups of lawyers and they are each entitled to a level playing field -and that is all that it is; justice is irrelevant.

There are two kinds of criminal lawyers: those who are concerned with justice and those shysters who view it as a game in which their roles are to get their clients acquitted. An honest lawyer whose client tells him that he is guilty, will do his best to get him as light a sentence as possible. The shyster doesn't give a damn about his guilt. He sees his job as getting his criminal off without punishment. Organized crime knows who those lawyers are and they use them. I believe that a lawyer who tries to get a guilty person declared innocent is an accomplice to a crime and should be tried and sentenced accordingly.

Despite what some lawyers may think, to most of us, the purpose of a trial is to deliver justice. Justice means that the guilty are found guilty and sentenced appropriately, and the innocent are set free. That should be the only purpose of a trial. What all too often exists is a travesty in which a trial becomes a contest between lawyers; with justice being irrelevant. This was amply demonstrated in the first trial of the cops who brutally beat Rodney King and the first O.J. Simpson trial.

The Dallas Morning News, that got the information about McVeigh and released the story, has done the cause of justice a great service. They deserve to be commended. That story makes it very likely that justice will be done and two mass murderers will be appropriately punished. If it were up to me, I would give the newspaper the Pulitzer Prize for journalism.

I would hate to see one more travesty of the judicial process, particularly since the Oklahoma City bombing is the most brutal, cold-blooded mass murder in America in this century. One hundred and sixty eight men, women and children were killed and many were seriously injured by those two monsters. The crime was so monstrous that I, who am ordinarily opposed to capital punishment, would gladly make an exception in this case. After World War II, the Norwegians, who hadn't had capital punishment for some time, made an exception in the case of the Nazi Vidkun Quisling, for the same reason.

A lawyer has no obligation to try to get a guilty person acquitted. On the contrary, he has a moral obligation to see to it that he is convicted. To do anything else borders on criminality. Unfortunately, a lawyer's reputation is made when he gets a guilty client acquitted. If it is a high-profile case, from then on, it's fat city for the lawyer.

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