Two recent cases in Minnesota demonstrate the power or prosecutors and what happens to accused people who may be innocent.
The first case involved a football coach at Mankato State University who had three short videos on his phone of his young children playing in the nude. The local prosecutor charged the coach with the felony of child pornography. You can imagine what happened to the coach’s life: professional work with young people, his wife, and, of course, the three kids depicted in the video. It sounded horrible and, coming on the heels of the Penn State convictions for sexual conduct from coaches, this case probably destroyed the coach’s life in the small city of Mankato, Minnesota.
Except for the courage and common sense of a judge who dismissed the entire case. See the article from the Star Tribune at:
http://www.startribune.com/local/182028151.html. The judge didn’t feel the government had even enough evidence to go before a jury, so she threw-out the case. The easy way for her would have been to let the trial occur, drag the coach and his family through the mud, and let a jury decide. The press coverage was intense and the judge could have ducked the entire issue. She didn’t.
The prosecution has not been willing to talk with the press, but I know from my 30+ years in the criminal law area, that cases are rarely dismissed by judges. That tells me the prosecution’s case was so weak that it couldn’t even get to a jury trial. Which leads to the larger question: Why did the government pursue the case? What about the shattered life of the coach and his family?
If it hadn’t been for the judge, the prosecution would have continued their steam roller to…what? Can the coach ever get his life and good name back again?
On the other hand, in a tragic story from northern Minnesota, a police officer responded to an emergency call only to be ambushed and shot in the head with a shotgun. Immediately, the man who the police were responding to was the prime suspect. Law enforcement and the prosecutors surmised the suspect had lured the officer to his death.
As the investigation went forward, the police were unable to find the murder weapon, a .20 gauge shotgun. After jailing the suspect and interrogating him, the authorities finally released him, saying they didn’t have enough evidence to hold him.
What a difference that county criminal justice process was from the first. See the story in the Star Tribune at:
Isn’t it amazing that, depending on the county, the prosecution of crime can be so different? In Minnesota, every county attorney is an elected position. We can only hope that the first county attorney, in the child porn case, will be defeated at the polls because of the sloppy and unfounded prosecution and perhaps even, abuse of power.
What do you think? Any stories from your experience like this?