In newspaper parlance, Martin Jones of Seaview last week went from alleged to convicted shooter of Washington State Trooper Scott Johnson. But this has certainly not ended public debate about the case.
Theres a reason why TV shows like Law and Order and Perry Mason are so popular decade after decade. Criminal investigations and prosecutions are the ultimate mix of mystery, intellectual inquiry and powerful life-and-death emotion.
At its best, the American criminal justice system achieves our highest social aspirations. Someone violated a law. The likely offenders identity is unmasked by smart and careful police work. Prosecution and defense lawyers vie against each other before a neutral judge and jury, and hone in upon the truth. The judge applies the law, the jury determines the facts, a verdict is reached. The defendant goes free or is punished.
The potential for complications and mistakes is nearly infinite in any human context, and we all know that our criminal-law system is far from perfect. Everything from inadequate funding to subtle biases can harmfully impact the administration of justice.
But trial-by-jury persists, despite its flaws, because most Americans remain convinced that a jury is uniquely endowed with a sort of wisdom and power of perception, and mostly arrives at the correct answers.
When it comes to the Jones case, reader comments posted on the Internet about the conviction make it plain that there remains a serious split in opinions about this outcome.
They range from, The jury should be ashamed of themselves. How do you convict someone of attempted murder without a shred of evidence? to Its a sad day when somebody can look at the evidence presented and still consider Jones an innocent man, apparently reality is still just a concept to some. The jury has spoken, a panel of his peers. Now its time for some to get closure, and for others to pay for their deeds.
The fact is that jury members alone possess the first-hand knowledge and perceptions gleaned during the nearly month-long trial. For those lacking any first-hand acquaintance with Jones, it is eye-opening to see that he has such passionate and sincere friends. This makes it difficult to believe that he is a monster. But it doesnt mean he was incapable of committing the crime of which he was convicted. The jury heard the evidence and weighed the credibility of all the witnesses, including Jones, who voluntarily opted to testify in his own defense. The jury, not we bystanders, gets to decide.
The defense attorney successfully argued for moving the case out of Pacific County because of his concerns that adverse pre-trial news about the case tainted the pool of potential jurors. In other words, he said it would be hard finding 12 completely neutral citizens here to hear the case. The prosecution, led by the Olympia-based assistant attorney general, had little if any objection to moving the case to more-convenient Tacoma.
It may still be argued during Jones automatic appeal of his conviction that even a Tacoma jury is biased against anyone accused of shooting a law officer in these deadly and troubling times for police. But this argument wont get far. Jones and his attorney had their best opportunity in front of a jury of strangers selected in a far-away city. And they still lost.
This case is a powerful rebuttal on behalf of keeping prosecutions close to home, where affected citizens would have had far-greater ability to see testimony for themselves. The Aberdeen Daily World deserves thanks and praise for covering the trial as well as it did and for sharing their stories with us. But local media at the coast were effectively denied access to the trial by the insurmountable expense of a long stay in Tacoma.
Clearly, some will always harbor doubts about this conviction, and thats unfortunate. But for most coastal citizens, this closes the book on a deeply disturbing chapter in our history.