Making of a myth

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Making of a myth

Jason McKay

Sunday, November 29, 2020

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I recently watched a documentary on television about a man named Sean Ellis who was convicted in 1993 for the murder of a Boston police detective named John Mulligan.

The short version of this documentary is that Ellis was acquitted 22 years after conviction. This came about because three members of the 50-man task force that was formed to investigate the cop's murder were convicted of unrelated corrupt activities some years later and they had been somewhat instrumental in the case.

Well, a few terms jumped out at me when I was watching this short true series. These are 'rehabilitation', 'judicial practices', 'enhanced murder investigations', 'the power of propaganda' and, of course, 'beware the messenger'.

First, let us talk about rehabilitation. The convicted man was an admitted drug peddler prior to conviction. He, by all accounts, appears to be rehabilitated. I am actually impressed that there is a system that says it conducts rehabilitative activities and can produce a rehabilitated man. I have yet to meet one in Jamaica who leaves that jungle we call a prison system and is not significantly worse than when he went in.

Now, judicial practices. What I saw allowed in this trial as it relates to evidence makes me wonder why we are not teaching their judges and their prosecutors the correct way to conduct a murder trial. The rubbish I saw them allow could never pass one of our high court judges, nor would any of it have been introduced by our prosecutors.

You see, few people realise how high the standards of our judges and prosecutors are. That is why neither of the above does rubbish like what happened in that trial. It ultimately led to the verdict being overturned by an appeal court.

That is also why it is so hard to convict someone in our system – because it is so much 'fairer'.

They even allowed in evidence from a police line-up, what we call an identification (ID) parade, after the accused was picked out of a photo ID parade with the accused's photo in it.

Peter Champagnie and Valerie Neita would have levelled the courtroom with opposition. It just could not happen.

Enhanced murder investigations — this investigation was really thorough, as it should be, with 50 detectives assigned to it. They actually recovered the murder weapon and the stolen gun. They even got a print from one of the weapons; the accused man's girlfriend's fingerprint was found on one of the guns.

Prior to this, they got the accused man's uncle to tell them where to find the guns and to give evidence that his nephew told him where he had hidden it. I am impressed and I promise a similar standard if we can get 50 detectives assigned to one murder investigation. Hmmm, as I dream.

Now: The power of propaganda. So after three trials and an appeal hearing or two, the accused was freed. This was because the convicted cops — to a large degree— were involved in procuring witnesses and the credibility of the witnesses became an issue.

There was also the occurrence of certain germane issues being withheld from the defence.

So if I were asked if the trial was fair, I would say no. Then, an innocent man was sent to prison. Not so fast. Let us look at the whole picture.

How the hell did his girlfriend's prints get on the gun? She says he gave it to her to hide, but later claims she lied because she was pressured. Okay, fine. But how did your damn prints get onto the gun if he did not give it to you?

Well, the documentary insinuates that it was after they printed her that she was told that her prints were on the gun. She said it was a very odd coincidence and hinted at corruption. But there is no way that you would know if prints match if you did not fingerprint a suspect to run a comparison. So it is not a mystery coincidence, it is science.

Now, the corrupt angle was left hanging after she hinted that they had superposed her prints onto the gun. That is absolute garbage. You cannot take a print and then replant it onto physical evidence. But everyone who watches that documentary will leave their television set believing that the print was planted.

The uncle told the cops where the guns were. He did not deny telling them. He denied giving evidence willingly. Well, okay. How did you know? Did your nephew tell you, as you said? If not, then who did? You see my point?

Beware the Messenger: This is the essence of my article. When Hollywood comes with an agenda, do not let them blindfold you. This story was largely told by the defence. The dead officer was vilified; the system labelled corrupt and the client innocent; questions like those of the print and the location of the gun left unanswered. So before you swallow the message, look at the messenger.

In our country we are fed rubbish from persons with their own agenda and we swallow it. This is a bad practice. Usually, it is designed to sell you the message they want you to hear.

Often it sounds solid, like someone saying we have a rate of police fatal shootings nine times as high as the United States of America (USA) per capita, but leaving out that our murder rate is nine times that of the USA also. Or, someone may quote the average rate of conviction for a US homicide detective who handles one to three cases at a time, create a percentage and compare that with the work of a detective in Jamaica.

Conveniently, they leave out that the detective in Jamaica is handling 30 cases at a time, not three.

Political parties also pick out pieces of fruit they want to sell you on, but leave out the seeds and the stalk. This segmenting of the message to fool the crowd is common in every form of communication. It plays out in the manipulation of economic data, crime statistics, international politics and organisational communication. But it is successful only when you allow yourself to be fooled.

The obvious questions are usually right there. If the messenger does not say, then you must ask.

So in four years when your Member of Parliament says that he built a school in the constituency, ask yourself how that fits into his portfolio. Was it really based on anything he did? Or, when you are told that murders are 50 per cent more than they were in 1996, ask for a comparison of the population in 1996 as well.

Most importantly, when you are told by them that we convict less than 50 per cent of our accused, ask them if they have a percentage for the innocent we freed!

I tell you, the brain and the chain.

Feedback: drjasonamckay@gmail.com


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