Wednesday 31 August 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Casey Anthony, O.J. and Steven Truscott

Guilt or not guilty. How do I know? How do you know? How does anybody know including the judge, the jury and the public? Yes, there is evidence. Yes, there are the circumstances. But is there reasonable doubt? Can anybody say with one hundred percent certainty that anybody is guilty or not guilty? And what do you do when after everything is said and done, the final argument is that one party says one thing and the other party says something else?

Like everybody else, I followed the DSK affair. Like everybody else, I heard the extraordinary tale of a sexual encounter between a very, very powerful man and a lowly poor immigrant hotel employee. Like everybody else, I heard some damning stories about past indiscretions. Was he guilty? Certainly he seemed to be condemned in the press and in the eyes of the public. Rape is a serious charge and who isn't against rape? Of course, the infamous "perp walk" with photographs sent around the world showing a man in handcuffs being escorted by police to a squad car had such an atmosphere of guilt that who wouldn't think DSK was culpable?

Now that all charges have been dropped against Strauss-Kahn and he is a free man once again, it is interesting to mull over how the credibility of the witness completely unravelled over the past couple of months. The woman in question, Nafissatou Diallo, lied about what took place immediately after the event. (Wikipedia: Prosecution disclosures) She lied on her asylum application. She claimed to have one phone and yet paid for five phones. She had deposited nearly $100,000 in the past two years from known felons. She phoned her boyfriend who was being held in an immigration detention centre a day after the incident and supposedly said, "Don’t worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I’m doing." Was she raped or was this a plot to extort money from a rich man? Will anyone ever really know the truth? It has been reported that Diallo filed a civil action against Strauss-Kahn on August 8, 2011.

Casey Anthony
A two year old girl goes missing and her remains are found six months later. Piecing together the information leads to a fairly bizarre story: a mother who doesn't report her own daughter's disappearance, a mother who lies several times to police, a car belonging to the mother with a smell in the trunk very much akin to the smell of a decaying body, etc. I wrote about the case in "The burden of proof: Casey Anthony, not guilty" and how the prosecution seems to have failed to conclusively show how the girl died.

This case has caused a hue and cry in the United States and with good cause. In looking at the story and hearing the evidence, it seems so obvious what the truth is, it is difficult to believe there could be a verdict other than guilty.

Will anyone ever really know the truth? Is Casey Anthony not guilty or is she now free because the legal process failed in some way?

O. J. Simpson
The criminal trial of O. J. Simpson lasted from January 29 to October 3, 1995 and ended with Simpson being acquitted for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. However the Brown and Goldman families sued Simpson for damages in a civil trial and on February 6, 1997, a jury unanimously found Simpson liable for damages.

Mr. Simpson announced after the trials that he would continue to look for the killer. However over the years, several people have come forward claiming that O. J. has confessed to them. Who else could have done this? One private investigator put forward the idea that it was Simpson's son, Jason Simpson, who committed the murders. Will anyone ever really know the truth?

Deus ex machina
This Latin phrase which means "god out of the machine" refers to a plot device whereby the author gets the hero out of a seemingly inextricable predicament by introducing something new and possibly fantastic. The main character is trapped? He gets rescued by an angel. The main character is faced with an earth-wide cataclysmic event? A passing space ship swoops him away thus escaping death.

Obviously the criticism of such a plot device is that it is a cheap and easy way out of a predicament. Rather than coming up with a plausible and possible explanation, the author who may see himself backed into a corner introduces something totally bizarre and unexpected like an angel, a god, a superpower or god only knows what. Some consider this to be undesirable in writing as it implies a lack of creativity on the part of the author. It doesn't necessarily pay due regard to the story's internal logic and because of the unlikely nature of the event, requires a suspension of disbelief. Granted science fiction with its space travel or superpowers as the initial premise requires a certain suspension of disbelief but sometimes the exit from the inextricable predicament turns out to require a suspension of disbelief which is, well, unbelievable.

If it walks like a duck
It's an old saying but is it a valid one? In each of the above cases, Strauss-Kahn, Anthony and Simpson, it is difficult to believe that the defendants are not guilty of the crimes they are accused of. Nevertheless in each case, the prosecution failed to prove its case and the accused now walks free. Since the obvious doesn't seem to be true, is there a deus ex machina? Will O. J. Simpson in his supposed hunt for the "real killer" eventually turn up the actual perpetrator? Will somebody other than Casey Anthony finally confess to having killed the two year old girl? Is Diallo guilty of a plan to extort money from Strauss-Kahn?

100% Guilty
I remember watching a TV murder mystery that opened with a scene where the protagonist arrives at the apartment of a bitter rival. The door is partially open. The person enters to find his rival murdered on the floor. The protagonist squats next to the body then picks up a bloody knife to examine it. Just then the police burst in and as you can guess, they are pretty sure who the culprit is. The rest of the show has somebody, usually a rogue detective or a Miss Marple armed with just a hunch digging through the evidence to discover who the real killer is.

If you're not guilty, you have nothing to worry about
Actually, that statement should be rewritten as, "If you're not accused of anything, you have nothing to worry about." How would you like to be handcuffed then perp walked to a waiting police cruiser? Don't forget that your photo will be published on page one. Even if a jury eventually finds you innocent, that story of acquittal will appear on page 15, column 2, paragraph 5.

Steven Truscott
On June 9, 1959, 12-year-old Lynn Harper disappeared near Clinton, Ontario, a town about 110 miles (180 kilometres) west of Toronto. Her body was discovered on June 11 in a wooded lot. The girl had been strangled with her own blouse and raped.

Steven Truscott, a 14-year-old school mate, gave her a ride on the crossbar of his bicycle in the early evening of June 9 claiming he dropped her at a crossroad then continued on. He maintains that when he arrived at a bridge, he looked back and saw a car stopped at the crossroad and Harper entering it.

At the trial the evidence was for the most part circumstantial centered on placing Harper's death within the narrow time frame which implicated Truscott. Truscott was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. An appeal was dismissed however the government commuted his sentence to life imprisonment.

During the 1960s, several attempts were made to retry the case however each time saw any new testimony dismissed as being too incredible. Truscott remained incarcerated until 1969 when he was released on parole. He eventually married and had three children.

New interest in the case came after an investigative television series ran an episode on Truscott. The government decided to review the case and new evidence came to light as to whether the original case was airtight in its rendering of the events.

The original trial presented as evidence an autopsy performed by Dr. John Penistan, the regional pathologist. He claimed that based on the contents of Lynn Harper's stomach, he could conclusively assert that the girl died between 7pm and 7:45pm on June 9, 1959 which would make Steven Truscott the most likely suspect and consequently, guilty due to no other suspect. However, a new review stated that the use of the stomach contents to ascertain the time of death cannot withstand scientific scrutiny and expert evidence now confirms she could have died much later. Add to this that the court had access to undisclosed autopsy reports authored by Penistan placing Harper's time of death much later on June 9, possibly as late as June 10. Plus Penistan prepared a report in 1966 for the OPP (Ontario provincial Police) in which he reappraised his own trial testimony and conceded that it was plausible that Lynne Harper could have been murdered at a later time. Testimony from some other kids who saw Truscott on the bridge came to light but was dismissed at the original trial. Police knew of people of interest with cars like the one Truscott described. None of this information came out at the original 1959 trial or in subsequent reviews during the 1960s.

On August 28, 2007, Truscott was acquitted of the charges. Truscott's defence team had originally asked for a declaration of factual innocence, which would mean that Truscott would be declared innocent, and not merely unable to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Although they issued the acquittal, the court said it was not in a position to declare Truscott innocent of the crime. "The appellant has not demonstrated his factual innocence," the court wrote. "At this time, and on the totality of the record, we are in no position to make a declaration of innocence."

Attorney General of Ontario Michael Bryant apologized to Truscott on behalf of the provincial government, stating they were "truly sorry" for the miscarriage of justice. (Wikipedia)

Final Word
Guilty or not guilty? Did Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape Nafissatou Diallo or was this an extortion plot? Did Casey Anthony actually murder her daughter or was the death an accident and she's guilty of being a negligent mother? If O. J. is truly guilty of murder, how was he acquitted?

Steven Truscott was nearly hanged for the murder of Lynn Harper. Instead he spent 10 years in jail and has been labelled a murderer his entire life. In reading about the case, it is obvious that many pieces of evidence and witnesses did not make it into the original trial. On top of it, much of the circumstantial link between Truscott and Harper was based on an autopsy which the doctor himself later recanted.

Guilty or not guilty? It is interesting to note that while the court acquitted Steven Truscott of murder, it did not declare him innocent. In other words, the court said that the case did not prove him to be guilty but it also did not prove him to be innocent. You only need to be not guilty to go free.


Wikipedia: New York v. Strauss-Kahn
New York v. Strauss-Kahn is the criminal case relating to the allegations of sexual assault and attempted rape made by a hotel maid, Nafissatou Diallo, against Dominique Strauss-Kahn at the Sofitel New York Hotel on May 14, 2011. On August 23, 2011, the judge formally dismissed all charges based on the prosecutors' assertions, including that the maid's "pattern of lies" had "made it impossible to trust her."

Wikipedia: Death of Caylee Anthony
Caylee Marie Anthony (August 9, 2005 – June 16, 2008) was a two-year-old girl reported missing in Orlando, Florida in July 2008, whose remains were found in a wooded area near her home in December 2008. Her 22-year-old mother, Casey Anthony, was acquitted of first degree murder, but convicted of lying to police officers, in a televised trial in the summer of 2011 that was described by Time magazine as "the social media trial of the century".

my blog - July 7/2011
The burden of proof: Casey Anthony, not guilty
This case has caused a hue and cry in the United States and with good cause. In looking at the story and hearing the evidence, it seems so obvious what the truth is, it is difficult to believe there could be a verdict other than guilty.

Wikipedia: O. J. Simpson murder case
The O. J. Simpson murder case (officially called the People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson) was a criminal trial held in Los Angeles County, California Superior Court from January 29 to October 3, 1995. Former American football star and actor O. J. Simpson was tried on two counts of murder following the June, 1994 deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. The case has been described as the most publicized criminal trial in American history. Ultimately, Simpson was acquitted after a lengthy trial that lasted over nine months which was presided over by Judge Lance Ito.

Later, both the Brown and Goldman families sued Simpson for damages in a civil trial. On February 6, 1997, a jury unanimously found there was a preponderance of evidence to hold Simpson liable for damages in the wrongful death of Goldman and battery of Brown. On February 21, 2008, a Los Angeles court upheld a renewal of the civil judgment against him.

Wikipedia: Deus ex machina
A deus ex machina (Latin: "god out of the machine"; plural: dei ex machina) is a plot device whereby a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.

Wikipedia: Steven Truscott
Steven Murray Truscott (born January 18, 1945 in Vancouver, British Columbia) is a Canadian man who was sentenced to death in 1959, when he was a 14-year old student, for the murder of classmate Lynne Harper. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and he continued to maintain his innocence until 2007, when his conviction was declared a miscarriage of justice and he was formally acquitted of the crime.

Toronto Star - Aug 29/2007
Truscott acquittal weighed
An autopsy conducted later by Dr. John Penistan, the regional pathologist, yielded perhaps the most crucial and damning evidence in the case. The court's finding yesterday was that Penistan's conclusions were scientifically unsound and that provided the basis for quashing Truscott's conviction.

Press Guide for the book
"Until You Are Dead": Steven Truscott's Long Ride Into History by Julian Sher (PDF)
Police never seriously looked at other potential suspects in the case. The fifth estate documentary revealed the ominous presence of Alexander Kalichuk in the area. The book reveals more information about Sgt. Kalichuk, a "sexual deviant" according to secret air force reports, who lived near Clinton and was arrested for attempting to lure a young girl into his car less than three weeks before Harper's murder. The book also identifies other suspects police overlooked: among them a lifeguard at the air base who sexually abused his young daughters and a convicted rapist who knew Lynne Harper's father.

"Until You Are Dead": Steven Truscott's Long Ride into History by Julian Sher
Paperback: 592 pages
Publisher: Vintage Canada (Aug 13 2002)
The nub of the prosecution case centred on the time when Lynne Harper was killed. Lynne Harpers' body had been examined by a pathologist from Stratford, Ontario, Dr. John Penistan. The time of Lynne's last meal was known, and on the basis of a visual examination of her partly-digested stomach contents, he placed the time of death between 7:15 and 7:45 p.m., 9 June, 1959. The only person known to have been with Harper at that time was Truscott. Penistan's evidence put Truscott on death row. Penistan later had doubts, but it was too late to help Truscott. The Supreme Court heard an expert who defended Penistan's estimate, and heard another whose analysis of it was devastating. Nowadays, science has moved on, and no pathologist would pinpoint time of death with such accuracy on the basis of speed of digestion. But the justices on the Supreme Court bench were not scientists. They decided that the jurors had heard the pros and cons with regard to Penistan's judgement of the time of death, and their decision should stand. They upheld Truscott's conviction.

official web site: Julian Sher
As a producer at CBC TV’s the fifth estate, Julian Sher spent two years investigating the Steven Truscott story for an explosive documentary.


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