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Innocent until proven guilty? - April Avison

It seems we just don't give people a chance anymore. I guess there's no way of knowing how many people charged with a crime are actually guilty of it but it probably outweighs the number of those charged who aren't guilty.

Still it seems we hype our American justice system while we continue to convict criminals with public opinion.

We hear jokes about Kobe the rapist and Scott Peterson the wife-killer, without regard to the fact that they haven't been convicted of anything.

I suppose now may be the best time to make a confession. I wrote several months ago that Scott Peterson didn't have a prayer. All the fingers pointed to him, I believed, and there was no way he'd end up a free man. That was a most uninformed opinion. My knowledge of the case was what I'd seen on television and read in newspapers. Because the case interested me I made a habit for several months of checking the local paper of the Petersons' hometown, The Modesto Bee, for current local stories on the issue. But the fact is, I'm not sitting on that jury and I know absolutely nothing about the evidence, DNA, witness testimony or any of the important elements that could affect the outcome of Peterson's trial.

In a recent Associated Press story it is said that the prosecution does not have enough hard evidence to "forcefully claim that Peterson committed the crime. They have no cause or time of death, no weapon and no witnesses who saw him do it."

Oops.

Here are a few of the holes in the prosecution's case, according to the AP.

* Prosecutors say Peterson killed his wife in their Modesto home late on the evening of Dec. 23 or early on Dec. 24, 2002. If he did it on Dec. 23, the defense counters, why would he have invited (his wife) Laci Peterson's half sister, Amy Rocha, to the couple's home for pizza that night? Rocha testified she did not accept the invitation.

* Peterson cleaned the murder scene immaculately and loaded Laci's 153-pound body into the back of his pickup truck, then drove through downtown Modesto to the warehouse where he stored his boat. How could no one notice, the defense responds, and why would he spend about 20 minutes on the Internet with his wife's corpse in the truck?

* Peterson leashed the couple's dog and set it loose in an attempt to suggest Laci had been walking it when she was abducted by someone else. But, the defense says, witnesses have reported seeing Laci Peterson walking the dog after her husband claims he left to go fishing.

I'm not saying Scott Peterson didn't kill his wife. I'm saying maybe he didn't. It seems as though few of us are open to that possibility. It doesn't matter much what I think about Scott Peterson's guilt or innocence. But it does matter what I think when a local person is charged with a crime. Sometimes gossip circulates or jokes are made referring to a person charged as a person guilty. That's not fair, and it's not right.

April Avison is the city editor of the Daily Herald. Her column appears on Mondays. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at aavison@henryherald.com.