Monday, June 6, 2011

The Greatest (?) Show on Earth

They start picking the jury today. And no, I'm not going to do daily reports on the trial.
But that it's now underway, that's worth noting.
At a rough guess (and I have no inside information, but given what we already know), Cuyahoga County has already invested over a million dollars in this thing what with the extraordinary fees and expenses allowed the defense and with the money the prosecutors and police have spent.
And more to go as we look at a couple of months of trial.
There one place where capital cases fairly often cost that much at trial: Federal court (your tax dollars at work, perhaps O'b could appease the Republicans by cutting the budget for capital cases - nah, wouldn't work). Then there's just the truly unusual case.  And Anthony Sowell's is it.
Eleven (11!) bodies allegedly found in and around his home in Cleveland.  11 counts of aggravated murder.  74 other charges.  As many as 132 witnesses, including the Mayor and his wife.
Carnival in Cleveland, I called it when I first wrote about the case.  The name is still apt.  So is the danger.
Sowell's lawyers want a change of venue.  The case has so saturated county awareness, they say, that it will be impossible to find a fair jury.  The judge intends to try anyway.  And today's Plain Dealer lays it out this way.
The case, which has cost taxpayers more than any in the county's history, called for an unprecedented 1,000 prospective jurors to be summoned in recent weeks in an effort to find a panel of 12 who have been least affected by the continuous news coverage.
Note the words, "least affected."  Not unbiased.  Not without having set opinions.  Sure, that's the media language, not what the judge said.  But it points to an ugly truth in these cases.  As long as they can find 12 jurors (and however many alternates they decide to seat) who'll say without breaking out in giggles or shouting "Heil Hitler" that they can be fair, that's good enough.
And there will be, almost surely, that many.
The standard is either fairness or a semi-convincing lie.
And so, they'll spend probably a couple of weeks picking a jury.  And then a mind-numbing couple of months of horror.
A circus.
For a pound of flesh the state may never collect.
I don't know if Anthony Sowell did what they say.  I don't know if he did all of it, some of it, or none of it.  I don't even know if it all happened.  I don't know if he'd have entered a guilty plea if they'd taken death off the table.  Here's what I know.
If he did those things, we'd be as well served by locking him up for the rest of his natural life as we would be by locking him up for the rest of his natural life or until the courts say we can murder him, whichever comes first.
And we could do it with far less fanfare.
And with the circus elephants kept at bay.

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