Sometimes you are guilty before you are even charged

It’s not easy doing what we do.  The general public thinks prosecutors are too easy on crime.  The police labs get to test everything before we get to see it.  New things always pop up in trials that aren’t in any police report that was given to us.

Worse than all of that, though, is the information that is passed on by the police early in a case.  The person who controls the information is in the drivers seat for controlling opinions.  If you think about it, that’s really what trials are… a contest of facts used to control opinions.

In nearly any big case, the police get first crack at spinning those facts.  Either through press releases, press conferences, or interviews with the media, the police have the first crack at getting out their side of the story.  That news story you just watched about the guy who was arrested 5 minutes ago?  The information came from the police.  Sure, in a follow-up story 6 months down the road you might see a defense attorney quoted.  Not for that first, important impression, though.  This might not be as troubling if the police were always correct in their initial reaction.

I’m not blaming the media, really.  They have to report based on what they know.  Seeing as the criminally accused like to wait until the absolute last possible minute to call a lawyer (usually even after they have already talked to the police), the cops are the only one who could talk to the media.  Nobody else knows anything.  That initial release of information very well may have a huge impact on whether or not somebody might get a fair trial.

That’s why this article in the Daily Herald is a bit perplexing. The police, to their credit, seem to stay as objective as the can.  Clearly they are looking to charge Mr. Ferrigan with the crime.  They are upfront in saying that there is not enough evidence yet, though.  This seems appropriate.

My gripe in this case is with the paper.  Most notably, with the picture.  This guy hasn’t been charged in this murder. Yet, the headline “Hanover Park Murder Probe Continues” is running on the front page with the picture.  What’s wrong with the picture?  It’s a mug shot.  Ferrigan is wearing a jail-issued top.  This mug shot has nothing to do with the murder probe. Nothing.  It’s from a different case.  A little suggestive, don’t you think?  How is that guy ever going to get a fair trial?

I’m not sure who made the call to run that picture.  It very well may have been made by editor/author Charles Keeshan.  I know Keeshan.  He is a talented journalist who has uncovered some fairly exciting stuff, and an extremely fair guy.  It’s just that this picture seems to imply much more than the actual, written story would suggest.  Or that the police are even willing to say.

Obviously my perspective is different than the news outlet’s.  The paper is trying to give its readers as much info as possible.  For whatever reason, readers like to see how people look.  I get it.  I just wish they wouldn’t run that picture as part of an article where a guy hasn’t even been charged.  That doesn’t seem like it’s asking too much.