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Perspectives on the Simpson Verdicts : Issues That Overshadow Guilt or Innocence : The jury has spoken; now we must address troubling problems of the 'message' and 'messenger.'

October 04, 1995|BARRY TARLOW | Barry Tarlow, a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, is a former federal prosecutor.

The Simpson jury has spoken. But what happened? Why is there such a difference between the perceptions of so many people and the not-guilty verdict, and why did the mountain of evidence presented at the trial become a molehill of sand?

In a trial, as in war, the side that chooses the battlefield is likely to win. This case was fought at times over issues that seemed to overshadow O.J. Simpson's guilt or innocence. After the verdict, Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti said that the case had been fought as "a battle for the victims of domestic violence." The defense chose to fight about whether the "messengers" or the "message" should be trusted. The jury answered that question loud and clear.

This verdict will not silence political opportunists who will blame the result on either jury nullification or those few precious remaining constitutional protections that our courts still enforce. If Simpson had been convicted after less than four hours of deliberation, these same critics would, of course, have embraced the jury system. Now they will decry the deliberations as proof that the system failed.

This verdict, in addition to deciding Simpson's guilt or innocence, must be a wake-up call to the Los Angeles Police Department and the elected and appointed officials in this city. Political pandering about our jury system, lawyer-bashing and shrill attacks on our precious constitutional rights miss the point. More is required than self-righteous public pronouncements about reform or yet another commission to study the problem.

The honest and committed members of law enforcement should now have the courage to clean their own houses so that in the future, criminal trial juries will have confidence in the messengers as well as the message. The infestation that former LAPD Detective Mark Furhman talked about so freely on tape--racism, perjury, frame-ups, manipulation and planting of evidence--must be rooted out of our criminal justice system.

The jury has declared Simpson not guilty. In a country of laws, that verdict should be respected. However, the verdict raises an important question that demands an answer: Do we have the will to open our eyes and minds to see and do something about the deeply disturbing problems in our police force brought to light by this trial?

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