I read with interest Donovan Brinks’ recent piece on the delivery of the verdict in the Troy Phelps murder case. I thought Mr. Brink perfectly captured the atmosphere, angst and pathos inherent in EVERY prosecution, defense and judgment in any murder case.
Mr. Brink did yeoman’s work in covering this 11-week marathon trial and should be commended. However, in the article, Mr. Brink referred to a quote made by an unidentified trial observer that “they didn’t do their f---- — jobs.”
I strongly beg to differ. I have been trying jury trials, first as a prosecutor and for 40+ years thereafter as a defense attorney in courts all over Oregon. It is my informed opinion that, in fact, everyone involved in this case did their jobs at a very competent and high-performing level.
Judge Simmons was an accomplished and effective defense attorney and prosecutor before taking the bench as one of our Circuit Court judges. Lead counsel Steve Hoddle is a dedicated and very successful prosecutor and has been for a long time. Elizabeth Baker and David McDonald are both accomplished and dedicated defense attorneys who did their job very well.
In this instance, the judge did exactly what the law and the facts demanded of her in this case. In my experience, she is a no-nonsense judge who consistently holds convicted defendants accountable.
In other words, simply because there was an acquittal absolutely does not mean that anyone did not do their job or did it poorly. Defendants in criminal cases are presumed innocent, whether it is a shoplifting charge or a murder charge. If the quantum of evidence that the State is able to bring to the table is insufficient, either legally or factually, then it is the job of the judge, indeed, her solemn duty (as it was in this case) to find the defendant not guilty.
Law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office can only proceed with the facts and the evidence available to them. We do not ever want police or the prosecution to blur the lines of their ethical obligations, even when they possess a strong, subjective belief in the guilt of a particular defendant.
All four components of the criminal justice system (law enforcement, prosecution, defense, and the judiciary) performed perfectly in this case and the citizens of Douglas County should be proud to be so well served by all of them.