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Friday, September 7, 2012

On the Peterson verdict

Posted By on 09.07.12 at 10:41 AM

Drew Peterson
  • Drew Peterson
Now that Bluebeard got what he deserved, is it OK to admit to feeling a little queasy about how his trial came out?

Juries don't like to acquit accused murderers. If they're going to err on one side or the other, it won't often be on the side of setting a killer free to kill again. Much less do juries like to acquit accused wife murderers, particularly ones like Drew Peterson who seem to make a habit of it.

Even so, proof is always welcome.

"It was problematic not to have any real hard evidence," Peterson juror Ron Supalo told the Tribune Thursday after the guilty verdict was in.

The Sun-Times approved of the verdict on the grounds that everybody always knew Peterson was guilty. "Common sense says Drew Peterson is right where he belongs—and may he never enjoy another day of freedom," said the editorial page. "The evidence, though much of it circumstantial and hearsay, was overwhelming."

Overwhelming in that Peterson is such a jerk he deserved to have the book thrown at him. "His cavalier attitude toward the seriousness of the charges and the fates of his wives got under our skin," the Sun-Times explained.

But the paper's joy is not unbridled. The paper viewed with concern "Drew's Law," passed in Springfield in 2008, that allowed secondhand testimony to be used against him. "Those who celebrate Peterson's conviction today are likely to feel less jubilant," the Sun-Times warned, "if a defense lawyer in some future case uses hearsay evidence to free a defendant who otherwise might have gone to prison for a serious crime."

For sure! And what about the possibility that a prosecutor in some future case will use hearsay evidence to convict a defendant who is actually innocent? That outcome strikes me as more likely, though this may be the wrong time for the Sun-Times to think about it.

During the Peterson trial, I imagined an outcome John Grisham would have approved of. "We all know he's guilty as hell and we all agree the state can't prove it," the jury foreman would have reasoned. "So here's what we do. We tell the judge we're a hung jury that votes 11 to one for conviction. The state will have to try him again and who the hell knows—maybe he'll cop a plea or maybe the next jury won't be such sticklers for evidence."

In other words, kick the can down the road. The Peterson jury didn't.

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