How the media reports on crime cases

Before watching the Cooper trial, I never paid much attention to trials.  I always assumed that strong evidence must exist in these cases, otherwise we would see a lot more acquittals.  I casually read the local news, never taking a close look at the specifics of the cases and without having the ability to view the actual trial, how would one learn more about the details of a case?  We’re typically limited in our understanding of a case based on what the media chooses to print about the case.

Watching the Cooper and Young trials (courtesy of WRAL) really opened my eyes.  I see a need for unbiased reporting that is not being delivered in these cases.  Typically the only time reporters cover the other side of the story, that doesn’t originate from law enforcement is through editorials and opinion articles and most of the time we don’t have an opportunity to read these until many years after the trial, when information is finally revealed through the courts that shows the person to be innocent.  Then it becomes a headline again.

Now that trials are available for all to view, shouldn’t the media put resources toward unbiased investigation when it’s clear that there are many problems with the case?  Wouldn’t it be nice if they could report objectively about such things as law enforcement ignoring evidence at the scene such as tire tracks and footprints, cigarette butts and wires?  Neglecting to properly handle larva specimens?  Neglecting to properly secure the computers and ignoring witnesses?  Clear evidence that other potential suspects were ignored?  Clear evidence of police “updating” their notes, clear evidence of police misleading the medical examiner about when the victim was last seen?  Wouldn’t coverage of all of these things actually increase viewership?  I believe it would.  Yet, most of the public will never know these details of the case.

I recently read an article about how the media does crime reporting from the Stanford Law Review.  It provides a good understanding of how the media gets their information and how they share it with viewers.  It describes how it is tabloid style reporting and people never have the opportunity to hear the other side of the story.  I would urge everyone to take the time to watch one of these local trials.  It will really open your eyes to what is going on in our judicial system.  It’s extremely unfair and people need to understand it if it’s ever going to improve.

From the article linked above:

The Vices of Crime Reporting –  There have been many critiques of American crime reporting as superficial, sensationalist, and catering to the worst instincts of its readers. In 1998, long-time New York Daily News crime reporter David J. Krajicek critiqued the practice of crime reporting as then practiced by newspapers as “drive-by journalism – a ton of anecdote and graphic detail about individual cases drawn from the police blotter but not an ounce of leavening context to help frame and explain crime.”  According to Krajicek, too much reporting on crime in the United States was nothing more than blazing, inflammatory headlines, graphic pictures of violence, and interviews with neighbors of the accused who – even if they had never actually met the suspect – offered pop-psychological evaluations based on the trash the defendant left on the curb.

As financially troubled newspapers cut costs to stave off extinction – eliminating reporters, editors, and staff members – this type of crime reporting is not only a possible option; it is increasingly the only financially feasible option.  As crime reporting becomes more and more prevalent in the daily press, newspapers are turned into tabloids.  But so severe are the financial constraints facing newspapers that the ability of newspapers to engage even in crime reporting has also been compromised.  Papers have increasingly become passive recipients and distributors of “facts” rather than active gatherers of information.  Increasingly unable to conduct their own independent fact-finding investigations, newspapers rely more and more on subjective sources such as law enforcement agencies, which provide packaged “stories” readily convertible to newsprint, or on news services such as the Associated Press, which produces a generic product suitable for inoffensive publication.  The local crime reporter does not even need to wallow in dirty police stations to procure his stories; the stories now come to him as an attachment to an email sent from the local district attorney’s office.  Crime reporting was never very probing or analytical in the first place, but the forms of crime reporting currently being practiced simply do not permit a perspective that is not superficial or prosecution-biased.

Nearly every police department, district attorney’s office, or attorney general’s office regularly produces press releases that praise the professionalism and thoroughness of the investigation, assert the certainty of the defendant’s guilt, and proclaim the need for harsh punishment.  These releases are produced by experts in media relations, and are consumed and republished, more or less verbatim, as stories by newspapers.  The ability of local law enforcement to generate prepackaged stories in this form is a relatively recent development,  But it is one that has proven of great benefit to the newspaper executives.  The repackaging of law enforcement press releases relieves the newspaper of enormous financial costs that would be borne if the newspaper itself actively investigated the facts and wrote the story.  “Investigative reporting is expensive….rehashing press releases is cheap”.

I guess it all makes sense that most people believe the person to be guilty from the beginning and  throughout, since the only information about the case is based on law enforcement press releases.  They control the information.  What happens when the police department is dishonest?  Is there any way to discern that from the news articles?  No.  The only way to see this is by watching the trial.  Then it becomes evident.  But even when the public is able to see these things, the media (whether they see it or not) continues to report their press release style of reporting, never investigating any of the misconduct by officials that is now obvious.

A good example of this is an article published by MSNBC on 7/17/2008 a few days after Nancy’s body was found.  By that time it was known that Brad did not purchase bleach and several witnesses had contacted police reporting they believed they saw Nancy Cooper.  Yet, this is what is stated in the article:

No one other than Brad Cooper is known to have come forward to say they saw Nancy after she left a Friday night neighborhood party that she attended alone, although a friend spoke to her on the phone at 10:30 p.m. that same evening.  

And

In fact, police have yet to confirm that she actually left her home that morning at 7:00 a.m. as her husband stated. Where are the witnesses, independent of her husband, who saw her leave, or enter another car, or simply walk down the street that Saturday morning?

And

Now unconfirmed reports are circulating that Brad may have purchased bleach as early as 4:00 a.m. the day Nancy was reported missing, and the victim’s father and twin sister have filed for custody of Nancy and Brad’s two daughters, ages 4 and 2, seeking to take them back to Canada with them.

  We now know from the trial that both of these were false and police knew that well before the article was printed. In fact, many people did contact police to report that they believed they saw a woman who may have been Nancy while she was still missing!  But police never released that fact to the media, so the public wasn’t aware of this until much later.

And Chief Bazemore knew that Brad did not purchase bleach that morning, but when asked if he did at a press conference she said “no comment” and let that rumor persist and so it continued to be included in news reports.

If you have a corrupt and dishonest police department feeding information to the media, the true facts will never be reported.  They could have reported to the media early on –

  • Several people from the community have contacted police because they believed they saw a woman jogger who may have been Nancy Cooper. The media could have interviewed them.
  • Although there was a rumor that Brad Cooper purchased bleach, it has been confirmed through store videos that he did not purchase bleach. The media could have shown a photo of the receipts.
  • Tire tracks and footprints visible at the scene and very near Nancy’s body did not match those of Brad Cooper.  The media could have questioned CCBI about how they would pursue this evidence.
  • Although a friend of Nancy’s reported that the Cooper’s use ALL detergent, that has been shown to be false. The media could have interviewed this friend.
  • The Cooper’s 4 year old daughter told a neighbor she saw her mother that morning.  The media could have interviewed the neighbor to share more information with the public.

Update:  At the link you will find a local report about the case where many of the early facts were not published.

None of these facts were reported!  Do you see how that would have influenced the public opinion about this case?  It is very disturbing that so many critical facts are kept from us and it influences everything about the case.  The jurors go into this believing the defendant must be guilty.  They haven’t heard anything to indicate  otherwise.  An honest police department would have provided the information listed above to the media but instead Cary Police let the idea persist from the beginning that Brad must be guilty. Please try to always keep an open mind about criminal cases and understand that you aren’t really receiving factual and complete news reports about the case.  If you take the time to watch the entire Cooper trial, you will understand how much of it was never reported, except for here on this blog.

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28 thoughts on “How the media reports on crime cases

  1. The Cary Police said nothing about the case other than some generic comments at press conferences. Until the trial started nothing was mentioned by any agency about any evidence or witness statements. No information about evidence from anyone, not CCBI not SBI not Sherriffs Dept, not the DA. Amanda Lamb rang Cooper’s doorbell for an interview and he refused to talk. She interviewed Donny Harrison. She and Ed Crump and other media were at the cpd asking questions. The media must have wanted more details. If people refuse to talk to the media then the articles won’t tell the information.

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    • Don’t you think it was irresponsible that while Nancy was still missing they withheld information from the press about people who called and said they thought they saw her? That they withheld info about their daughter seeing her? Information that could have assisted in finding her?

      And for Bazemore to allow the rumor about the bleach to remain when she knew otherwise is extremely unethical.

      CPD didn’t even try to access her phone to try to find recent calls to try to find her. It was shoddy from the start and all the way through.

      You say CPD chose not to give out any details. Maybe that’s because all of their details pointed away from Brad’s involvement.

      It amazes me that anyone is still sticking up for them.

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  2. John – I did not follow this case until the trial but going back through old articles, it is clear the police did discuss evidence early on….misleading evidence, such as “friends say Nancy always ran with her keys.” which was completely false. A lot of evidence was in the news so for you to say that nothing was discussed until the trial is completely false. None of the evidence favorable to Brad was discussed though. That much is clear.

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  3. I’m not sticking up for them or anyone. I just remember the police never say much in any case. Not just in Cary but Raleigh and Sheriffs and FBI and everywhere too. Don’t know if its irresponsible or not. Teams searched for 2 days and those areas got covered in the search. The media is always sniffing around looking for information and they want to talk to everyone they can for articles. I think rumors are a problem in every case and people believe what they want no matter what their told. This happens all over the world. The public does not get to hear the details of evidence, testing or much of anything until a case goes to trial and that’s where it all comes out. Not just in NC but pretty much everywhere. Remember the accused can always talk to the media and tell information they want to get out to the public at any time. They are allowed to talk and the media will do a story.

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    • I’m making the point that in an honest investigation police will share facts about the case that are geared toward solving the case and in this case finding a missing person. Instead they let the bleach rumor persist and never shared anything that put Brad in a positive light even though the info could have helped find Nancy or later the killer. They clearly made up their minds of his guilt from the time Jessica made that phone call.

      As far as the media goes – they know now after watching the trial that police were dishonest in the handling of this case and prosecutors misled the jury in many ways, yet they remain quiet. Why?

      And the Jason Young case – same thing. Two innocent men are in prison, railroaded by the Wake co judicial system.

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  4. So some friends talked to the media and the cops did not. Nothing is real or confirmed until it is part of the trial. Media gets things wrong all the time. Even CNN and FOX. Trial testimony is the only thing that counts.

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    • No. Cops talked to the media and gave inaccurate information that was FROM the “friends”. Why they believed them, I will never understand because they were all liars. The trial proved that.

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  5. Then perhaps it’s better if no one ever says anything about a case at any time to make sure nothing inaccurate ever is said. Media should do the opposite of what you suggest and publish nothing at all because until a case is in trial, nothing said can be believed by anyone. A total blackout of information is the only way to go and information should only come out at trial.

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    • Yes, saying nothing would be preferable. When the only information released to the media is false (bleach, runs with keys) it is damaging to the accused beyond repair.

      However, I do believe if they had pursued and made public the information from all people who believed they saw Nancy, it could have led to the real killer. If they had also cast the tire tracks that led right up to the body and possibly figured out a make/model of a vehicle…that type of info should be fed to the public to help the case.

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  6. I did not watch the Cooper Trial but I did watch the Young trial from start to finish. There were days where I watched the media recap after the full day at trial and I remember thinking, were they in the same courtroom today that I was watching? The media does not report the full story. They will pick and choose what they want to report. Biggest problem is that this type of media behavior manipulates the public and blinds them from the real truth.

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    • Very true, DeeDee. I had no idea the extent of this until watching these trials. Even Dateline’s coverage of both cases left so much important information out. I really want people to know what I know about these cases but it’s so difficult to break it all down and convince people. Even with videos. No one wants to take the time to look at it closely. If they did, they would see it.

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  7. Well your article is about the media and how the media needs to ask more questions. Theres an assumption they don’t ask. They can ask all they want but that doesn’t mean they get the information and it doesn’t mean they will interpret it right. Cops didn’t give out any info about bleach.

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    • “Cops didn’t give out any info about bleach.” What are you talking about? Bazemore was specifically asked “did Brad purchase bleach?” at the press conf. and she said “I can’t comment” when at the time she already had the videos and receipts from his trips to HT. And read about it in this article. How is this not harmful to Brad? AND who started the rumor? Probably them.
      http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=5378538&page=1#.T4yqBNXuaSp

      The point of the article was that if police are dishonest, it will never be revealed through the media reports of a case because they selectively give the media only info that is in line with their theory. Do you really not see that? I suggest you go through and read some of the articles from the beginning.

      And let me ask you – if you were accused of a crime and you had to read inaccurate statements about yourself in the news, how would you feel? Are you okay with it? Because that’s what happened in this case.

      AL wrote an entire book from the prosecutions perspective. Even keeping all of the “friends” lies in it and never mentions prosecutors misleading the jury about a 32 digit passcode and “missing” shoes that were never even asked for or searched for! People do not know the truth about this case.

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  8. Who brought up the bleach issue? A reporter. What information did they end up getting? At the end of their question they didn’t know if bleach was purchased or not which is exactly what they knew before they asked the question. And why was it anyones business what got purchased at the store? Just because a reporter asks doesn’t mean people have a right to the information. Just because stupid people start rumors doesn’t mean anyone has to confirm or deny the rumor.

    On the one hand you want the media to say and write nothing because they get things wrong and have a slant. On the other hand you want the media to publish everything as long as it supports a suspect. You can’t have it both ways. The media is not controlled by any one group.

    If I read inaccurate stuff about myself I’d be telling my side of the story to the media and whoever else I could to set the record straight. If I had to I’d sue. If a reporter wanted to talk to me I’d do it as long as they agreed to not change my words. I’d talk to anyone to get the truth out. Nothing would stop me. Why didn’t Brad Cooper talk or give an interview? He was asked and he had any opportunity he wanted. He still can. No media outlet would turn him down. You never lose your right to free speech. Free speech is for everyone.

    Anyone can sue if they’ve been libeled or slandered by the media or any person for that matter. Thats the way to control the media.

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  9. You are missing the point about the bleach. People today STILL believe he purchased bleach because that rumor was allowed to persist early on. CPD KNEW he did not purchase bleach but let it stay out there!

    I never said I wanted the media to report only what supports the suspect. I want them to do investigative reporting, like Curliss did with Tracy Cline. Not just spit out what police feed them. Anyone can do that.

    Why did Brad not talk to the media? Because – when you are being investigated for a crime, you must remain silent. Everyone knows that. Please don’t blame Brad Cooper for the ineffective job done by the police and media in accurately reporting about this case.

    The media IS most certainly controlled by the State.

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  10. I agree about the police and media misconduct in pretrial. I am more enraged about the lies the police told during the trial and the biased judging.

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    • I’m enraged about all of it. Part of the purpose of this blog is me trying to understand how this could happen. I still can’t believe everything that went on and things just go along as usual. No investigations into the misconduct. No one in any capacity to do something about it cares. I’ll never understand how town officials can just sit by and do nothing, and believe me I have sent them links to many of my articles and will continue to do so. When the truth becomes public one day (and it will), they can’t pretend they weren’t aware of the police misconduct.

      As far as the prosecutors go, we all know they have immunity so no worries for them:(.

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      • It’s certainly one of mine! (Check my date.) I’m just glad I saved to my faves!! When it was FIRST posted, it got Ԁlostࢴ after about a day, but Emil retrieved it – YAY! It WAS a little clearer before, but it’s still clear enough to be great.

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  11. My own insight is that these are the questions that those who are positions to uphold the law ask of themselves, 1. do we want to convict this person {brad Cooper}. 2. Then we must have evidence, A. DNA, 2. Anything else by any means possible. PERIOD.

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  12. I am completely intrigued by John’s interpretations of what happened in Brad Cooper’s case. John is obviously an intelligent and thoughtful man, however many of the arguments he makes are not supported by the facts of the case. There was much media coverage of Nancy Cooper’s disappearance and later the discovery of her body. At this time, Brad Cooper did make an appearance to urge people to find her. Within hours, of her disappearance, he was the “number one” suspect and he felt the wrath of the neighbours and Nancy’s family. He no doubt was advised at this time to “not talk” to the police or media at least without a lawyer present. This is standard practice of any defence lawyer. Brad later gave a six hour deposition in the custody matter between Brad and Nancy’s family. There is no doubt that he did this AGAINST his lawyer’s advice, but felt he had to make an effort to maintain custody of his children and that he had “nothing to hide”. John fails to realize that Brad, in his effort to “get the facts straight” and get “his side of the story out” hurt himself tremendously in his murder trial. That deposition was played in its entirety to the jury and was clearly both prejudicial and completely irrelevant to the murder case. The point is very obvious especially if you examine the fate of Jason Young who was vilified by the prosecutors at trial and the public for not “going as hard as he could” for custody of Cassidy Young. So there is the element of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. The coverage of Brad Cooper LOSING custody of his two children was clearly in the media and therefore the public eye.In actual fact and that ruling of losing custody was as good as a rubber stamp that said “guilty”. Judge Debra Sasser, had zero cause to take the kids away from Brad, other than her belief in the testimony of those who said without any evidence or proof that Brad Cooper killed Nancy. The ruling of the family court judge was clearly biased in favour of what she knew of the case “behind the scenes”. That finding was enough to convict in the public eye. If you examine the media reporting of the results of that custody battle, no where will you find any reporter stating that the burden of proof in family court is extremely low and the findings of a district court judge are not often even close to reality, rather it is just what the judge decides is best for the child. Judge Sasser is so out of touch with reality about children’s welfare that in one case I know of, she awarded temporary custody of an 18 month child to be switched between mother and father every 24 hours (temporary custody typically lasts for many months awaiting a proper custody hearing). The point for John to remember is that the civil court was used to pressure the public into believing this man was guilty two years before his criminal case came up for trial.The same process was attempted in the Jason Young case except Young followed his attorney’s advice to the letter. The use of the civil courts is now being used very unfairly by prosecutors to circumvent the accused fifth amendment rights to not incriminate oneself. Perhaps John is still convinced that it is okay to talk to the media or police “if you are innocent” as many folks apparently do. This is the height of naivete. The important part of the Cooper narrative as reported in the media and in particular the reporting and book authorship of Amanda Lamb is that many proven lies and deceptions were never corrected for the public to digest the facts correctly. I feel bad for folks who cannot understand that in America, if the state wants to prosecute you for anything, no matter how innocent you may be, they will secure a conviction.and one of the ways they do it is by using the media to “help” them. DA’s and judges are elected officials. They almost never go against “popular opinion” and popular opinion was that Brad Cooper killed his wife and popular opinion is that Jason Young killed his wife too. It was in this way that they proceed to get re-elected. There are many myths about the criminal justice system that abound and the biggest of these is that if you are factually innocent, they cannot “prove” you guilty. In both the Cooper case and the Young case, the real facts pointed to other suspects. There was zero proven evidence in either case. Yet both men sit in prison. One needs only to examine these two high profile cases completely to realize that this belief is utter fallacy.

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    • Well said. Jim. Excellent point about how civil courts are now being used in these cases. You are right that Brad losing custody immediately made him appear to be guilty. Even the national news reporters made statements along those lines….”the judge must think he is involved in the murder”. Terrible, all of it.

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  13. “Anyone can sue if they’ve been libeled or slandered by the media or any person for that matter. Thats the way to control the media” per John

    Here, we have an obvious case of a citizen who firmly believes in the legal system here in the USA. John believes fervently in his right to free speech and the ability to litigate when he has been slandered or libeled in the media. He believes that in any situation, he will be protected by the law and by the authorities and will be treated fairly by courts and reporters. Sadly too many people believe all this. It is the height of folly.

    There were many cases where Brad Cooper was being reported on by the media and much of it was lies. The example cited was that he purchased bleach. The media cannot be sued by this report because there were rumours that he purchased bleach. It was not a falsehood for the media to publish “reports that he purchased bleach”. You can’t sue for what they believe to be true and they believed the reports. Often the media protects itself by saying “there are unsubstantiated reports”. It is wholeheartedly foolish to think you have the ability to “sue” the media. First off, where do you begin to sue? Wrongful rumours and reporting of same are akin to stopping a moving train, once in motion it has a life of its own. Secondly, in order to sue, you have to direct money and resources to that and this seems unlikely when you are facing criminal charges and civil litigation over custody of the kids. I know, some will say, “a libel suit attorney will work on contingency” but in reality this only happens when you can find an attorney who believs he/she stands a VERY good chance of winning. Your own indignation at having been slandered or libeled is simply not the litmus test in this regard.

    The point of the article above is a very important one. It is a statement about the power of the state (government as law enforcement and prosecutors) to control what the media reports. As an individual, you have very little power at all. In the Cooper case, Mr. Cooper might have said (if had gotten a reporter to listen) “I deny having purchased bleach and in fact I have video to prove it”. This thus becomes an attempt by Cooper to try his case in the media, which is a very risky thing to attempt. It works for prosecutors but it backfires tremendously with defendants. There is a reason why defence attorneys tell their clients not to talk.and it is because every word they utter, every nuance of verbal and non-verbal communication can and will be analysed and used against them as evidence. In Cooper a report might come out, “Mr Cooper denies buying bleach the morning of his wife’s death and Chief Bazemore has indicated she cannot comment on that aspect of the case”. It now sounds to me like “methinks he doth protest too much”. In other words, the reader or listener will say to themselves “wow, that’s an odd thing for him to say”..

    I think it is very important for American citizens to realize that we all hold some very serious misconceptions about the reality of our legal system. It is heavily slanted toward prosecution success and anyone who finds themselves on that slippery slope mislabelled as the “criminal justice system” needs be aware that odds are against them for a favourable outcome both in the court of public opinion and in a trial by a jury of their peers.

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    • You are exactly right, Jim. People are naive and believe everything is fair and if it’s not there is appropriate recourse. Most of the time there isn’t anything we can do.

      I was in a conversation with someone earlier today about this case and interestingly she said the only thing she really remembered about the case was all of the reports about bleach being purchased early on. It is damaging! And police had an opportunity to set the record straight. They preferred to let the rumor persist. We are supposed to be able to trust our public officials.

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  14. I have been obsessed with reading between the lines for some time. There are major cases, and minor ones, in which I just don’t believe the person is guilty. And initially, you don’t have to read between the lines because you read the ‘facts’ as they happen. I remember reading, and seeing, Cooper’s receipts / photo image of when he was at the store picking up stuff which became his alibi. But then, as has become the modus operandi for criminal investigations, the crime time changes to fit the timeline that “they” want, and thus, it became more of an implication. And if you are hyperaware of these injustices (about to take place), as I am, then you wait for them to come. It is only refreshing to know that there are more and more people, like you, who see the truth: that are system is flawed and as Jim states – the reality is our legal system is not about “innocent until proven guilty”. And our peers, not just on the jury, don’t even buy into that. The media has in-grained into our heads that it’s always the spouse (in these types of cases) that we automatically jump to that conclusion no matter what the circumstance that it would take a photo-finish to convince someone otherwise that it _wasn’t_ the spouse. It’s not fair (yes, I am whining). It’s illogical. And it’s that: until it happens to them, they won’t get it. Ignorance is not bliss.

    In another life, I would have loved to have been the wealthiest person in the world so that I could have been a lawyer who could have worked on The Innocent Project and funded cases *or* just be wealthy and funded cases :). Either way, one has to be rich and fund the cases because there are just too many.

    I think I already mentioned this before somewhere but the book Bloodsworth is such an amazing book to read. It is about Kirk Bloodsworth was on death row for a crime he never committed. But the way the detectives wrapped the crime to fit his timeline…man, it’s scary and exactly how I think people need to remember how sometimes our law enforcement works. Is that a generalization? Maybe but, from my standpoint, I’ve just seen too many cases of “guilty” even when proven innocent.

    Oh Lynne, you just know how to stir me up! 🙂

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    • I’ll check out that book, thanks. I wish I could do more to help too. This whole thing has been an eye opener for me. And the more I look at it, and similar cases…the more I can see HOW they do it. It is dishonest and shocking that they are able to get away with it. The tactics are to put forth a bunch of stuff and call it coincidences and push for a conviction based on the sum of “all this stuff”. No matter that it’s all baseless and unproven and as Jim stated it should easily be proven. The carefully woven story is bought, then Dateline loves it because it all sounds like such an interesting story. The problem is – no one stops to consider that none of it is proven to be true. Incredible. People are being duped.

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