One of my favorite TV shows was The Fugitive starring David Jansen as Dr. Richard Kimble, which ran on ABC from 1963-1967. It was based on the real life case of Sam Sheppard, a Cleveland, Ohio osteopath who was charged with his wife’s murder in 1954. Sheppard maintained that a “bushy haired man” was the real killer. He was charged with first degree murder and went on trial in December 1954. He was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. The verdict was overturned in a retrial headed by a young defense attorney named F. Lee Bailey in 1966. Sheppard maintained his innocence until his own death in 1970. On the TV servies, Dr. Kimble claimed that he saw “a one-armed man” running from his home the night of the murder. The series ended with the real killer being caught and Kimble was exonerated of his wife’s murder. It was a case of art following real life.
The popular series “Law and Order” which aired from 1990 – 2010 on NBC was a glimpse into how a crime is investigated by the police and then prosecuted by the district attorney. Many of the episodes were based on actual cases. And like in the real world the person charged with the crime was sometimes convicted and other times sucessfully defended, resulting in a not guilty verdict being rendered by the jury. That’s how things work in the real world we live in. Regardless how we may feel with a court’s decision that is the legal system we have in this country, for better or worse.
I mention this in light of the recent and highly publicized trial of Dr. James Corasanti, a Buffalo gastro-intenstinal specialist who was charged with among other things drunk driving, tampering with evidence, and vehicular manslaughter in the death of a young girl riding her longboard home late at night in July 2011. He was found not guilty of all charges except a misdemeanor DWI which means he keeps his medical license but could still face a year in prison. The results remain to be seen. It also says that the jury believed that the doctor was drinking that night!
While certainly not in the same context by any means, I don’t recall a more negative response from WNY citizens since the ‘no goal’ decision went against the Buffalo Sabres in the 1999 Cup finals. The doctor, his defense team, the jury, as well as the legal system are being blistered in the media. I found some statements by the jury foreman to be quite perplexing. He was quoted as saying that the jury felt that the doctor was probably “distracted by his thoughts or whatever” when he hit the girl. The defense was able to convince the jury she was partly at fault by being in the road. He hit her because he was drunk and distracted by texting, eating, picking his nose, his thoughts, or whatever!! He also went on to say they found the doctor innocent of vehicular manslaughter because there was no intent on the doctor’s part to hit and kill her that night. No kidding. Call him what you want but I don’t believe for a moment that he INTENDED to hit and kill her. But that charge doesn’t require intent. So what guided the jury in that conclusion??
It all comes back to the legal teams assembled for this trial. The district attorney’s team presented a mountain of evidence to get a conviction on 1 if not all 5 of the counts that carried a felony, which meant Corasanti would lose his license to practice medicine. The defense team, a trio of savvy and veteran criminal lawyers, presented an equal mountain of evidence and expert testimony to prove a reasonable doubt in the juries mind. And that is the crux of defense vs. offense in the US legal system. Create enough doubt in the juries minds!! Remember the now infamous statement made to the jury by defense attorney Johnnie Cochran in the OJ Simpson murder trial? “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” The jury had enought doubts swirling around in their heads to come back with a not guilty verdict. Remember another one of OJ’s expensive defense attorneys? F. Lee Bailey.
The very first episode of the Law and Order series (season 1-episode 1) had an eerie similarity to the Corasanti case. The chief of a hospital’s emergency services was charged with criminal neglect in the death of a patient who came to the ER because of bronchitis. He had been drinking and mistakenly approved giving her the wrong medicine, which resulted in her death. After proving that he had a drinking problem, he was convicted when the prosecution was able to prove in court that he had been drinking that day during the recess for lunch.
In the legal system in this country, as in life itself the old adage applies. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. One other piece of information that was publicly revealed, though not used against Corasanti in his trial, was that he had a prior conviction for DWI. He had driven drunk in the past, without the same tragic results. But the question is, will he do it again? That remains to be seen. Check out that first episode of Law and Order. And keep in mind another adage: what goes around comes around.