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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wall of sound ... and jury signifying something

Post mortem thoughts on Phil Spector re-trial.

Comments by the D.A.’s and defense attorneys are revealing about the system. The DA’s complimented the second jury (that convicted) over the first (that hung 10 to 2 for guilt). In the first trial, the foreman, an engineer who took detailed notes during the trial, stubbornly held out for NG and convinced one other to vote his way. In the DA’s view, he "got hung up on details and missed the larger picture." For the re-trial, the DA wanted "common sense to be just dripping off the panel, as opposed to over-analysis." During the second trial the DA was relieved that the jurors seemed to be bonding, sharing food and making friendships with each other. The bonding led jurors to focus on "the forest and not the trees." As the defense attorney feared, this made it harder for individual jurors to reject the majority.

Whatever the objective merits of the evidence supporting Spector’s guilt, I find these comments troubling.

First, the reason we demand unanimity and of 12 individuals on juries is to avoid a group mentality that pressures the loner to cave in to a majority. Where is Henry Fonda when he is needed?

Second, more innocent people are convicted because jurors ignore "details" in favor of "the big picture" than for any other reason. See the HBO broadcast documentary, "Witch Hunt", for a terrifying example of jurors who get swept up in the tide of community outrage about the big picture.

That incident also illustrates the third reason the post mortem comments are worrisome to me. The DA wanted and got a jury that used common sense rather than over analysis. Reliance on common sense is dangerous when it comes to drawing conclusions in criminal cases. Reasonable doubt can only exist after examining the evidence and the absence of evidence (i.e., analysis of details). Common sense often leads to the wrong answer. Common sense says victims are reliable eyewitnesses, children wouldn’t lie about sex with their parents, police are unbiased.

Whatever I may think of Phil Spector's guilt or his strangeness, it is clear that the D.A., desperate to finally win a celebrity trial and end the ridicule heaped upon them for their past ineptitude, cared little for annoying little details - like contrary evidence.


  1. Contrary evidence?
    Yeah, right.
    Decades of Spector's acquaintances having guns pointed at them, pulled on them and shot into the ceiling (ala John Lennon & Mal Evans) when Phil didn't get his way in a situation with them..
    Ummm, Lana with her purse on her shoulder in the foyer obviously ready to go, probably realizing that she made a mistake coming to this quack's house. She tried to leave.
    Something he hated women to do.
    Plain and simple as that coupled with his past reactions.
    What again did you say about contrary evidence?
    It's called logic and common sense.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous. Your conclusion may well be right - Spector is probably guilty as sin. My problem isn't with the result, but the process. Your problem is that you think common sense always equals "logic". I have found that is often not true.

  3. Thanks for your comment, too, Mort. And you're right, my problem is that common sense should equal logic. But look how many of us lack common sense! In a perfect world, logic and common sense would be parallelling partners.
    But, in the Spector case, let us add one more thing to the logic and common sense equation... that would be statistics...
    The statistic mattering here would be the occasions Spector pulled guns on women wanting to "blow their brains out"
    I've never pulled a gun on someone.
    I'm sure you have never.
    One day, the trigger had to get pulled and that day came right about the same time he got older, less popular, probably more mentally ill and less tolerant and truly alone. He was a bomb waiting to go off.

  4. The law considers past similar crimes by the accused as relevant, but is careful because too many wrong convictions have come from assuming guilt based on past actions. I am not saying it wasn't relevant here.