(Tomorrow, The Violence Expert, Susan Murphy Milano, in Part 2)
What a great relief it was to all justice seekers to see that the grand jury finally handed down an indictment against Drew Peterson. You heard it here first; there is no way that this case will settle. Drew Peterson is probably one of the most narcissistic (self loving persons) out there. He will never take responsibility for the years of domestic abuse against all of his wives, the abuse of power by using his police knowledge and power to murder at least one and probably two of his wives, and the child abuse; for not only killing his children’s mother but also for subjecting his children to the lies and cover-up that have become the symbol of this case since the onset. Drew Peterson is incapable of accepting responsibility and a trial will give him the opportunity to do what he loves best—to be in front of a camera and to talk, talk, talk.
So, what are we likely to see as his defense? In the words of Joel Brodsky on the Today Show, “This is a weak, circumstantial case at best.” All I have to say is SO WHAT? Most cases are proved by circumstantial evidence.
In order to understand what a big nothing relying on circumstantial evidence is, you must attend my short class on evidence. So, welcome, here we go. Basically everything presented to a jury is considered evidence, except for the statements and questions from the lawyers. The testimony of fact witnesses and the opinions of expert witnesses are evidence. Documents are evidence. Physical objects, like murder weapons, are evidence. Tape recordings, police reports, and photos are all evidence. Just about everything submitted to the jury that proves or disproves the charges against the defendant is evidence. Before we take a look at the rule of evidence, for a good review of the state of the evidence in this case, I highly recommend taking a peak at the Justice Café Blog which has followed the key pieces of evidence, history, and key people in this of Drew Peterson.
Now back to our lesson. In law evidence that is not drawn from direct observation of a fact can be drawn from events or circumstances that surround it. If a witness arrives at a crime scene seconds after hearing a gunshot to find someone standing over a corpse and holding a smoking pistol, the evidence is circumstantial, since the person may merely be a bystander who picked up the weapon after the killer dropped it. The popular notion that one cannot be convicted on circumstantial evidence is false. Most criminal convictions are based, at least in part, on circumstantial evidence that sufficiently links criminal and crime.
Circumstantial evidence is the bread and butter of criminal trials. Many circumstances can create inferences about the defendant’s guilt in a criminal case, including the defendant’ statements to police, statements made publicly (i.e. statements made in a television interviews, press conferences, newspaper articles, etc.) inconsistencies of any above statements, the presence of a motive or opportunity to commit the crime; the defendant’s presence at the time and place of the crime or at the discovery of the crime; any denials, evasions, or contradictions on the part of the accused; and the general conduct of the accused, other prior bad acts including history of domestic violence, character evidence, etc. In addition, much scientific evidence is circumstantial, because it requires a jury to make a connection between the circumstance and the fact in issue. For example, with fingerprint evidence, a jury must make a connection between this evidence that the accused handled some object tied to the crime and the commission of the crime itself.
There will be circumstantial evidence against him and Drew Peterson will try VERY hard to get jurors to buy into the theory (which books, movies, and television perpetuate) that somehow circumstantial evidence is not as good or may not be used to convict a criminal of a crime. But this view is FLAT OUT WRONG. In most cases, circumstantial evidence is the only evidence linking an accused to a crime; direct evidence may simply not exist. As a result, the jury may have only circumstantial evidence to consider in determining whether to convict or acquit a person charged with a crime. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has stated that “circumstantial evidence is intrinsically no different from testimonial [direct] evidence” (Holland v. United States, 348 U.S. 121, 75 S. Ct. 127, 99 L. Ed. 150 ). In other words, the distinction between direct and circumstantial evidence has little practical effect in the presentation or admissibility of evidence in trials.
And if you don’t believe me that circumstantial evidence is used all the time and brings about convictions, I direct you to some of the more newsworthy cases where convictions were based largely on circumstantial evidence: Scott Peterson, Timothy McVeigh, Phil Spector, Michael Skakel, David Westerfield – the list goes on.
Perhaps no one says it better than Norman Garland, professor of Law and author of several books including Criminal Law for the Law Enforcement Professional, “...Circumstantial evidence is nothing more than what we live by on a daily basis as a matter of common sense.” And my common sense says Drew Peterson is guilty as hell.