0

We may be slower, but our justice is quick - Bob Paslay

We Southerners are accused of living life slower than most of the nation although anyone who has driven on the interstates around metro Atlanta would disagree. We come to someone's office and yes, we visit a little while. "How's the family? How was that vacation?" We sit on porches and watch lightning bugs and talk. We go in a store and wait while the sales person finishes chatting.

OK, we plead guilty to not only stopping to smell the roses but asking the owner how she grew them.

But the rest of the nation, and especially Southern California, could take some lessons from us when it comes to dispensing justice and trying those accused of crimes.

A mean little bigot who ironically was named Killen was put on trial for thinking that because he had a hunting license that he could hunt down human beings he didn't like. It was an old case in Mississippi, very old, and the case came to trial. The jury was picked. The prosecution presented the case. The jury deliberated, got hung up and was told by the judge to keep deliberating. The 12 members apparently worked out a compromise and find him guilty of manslaughter three times rather than murder. It was a moot point since murder carried life and manslaughter carried 20 years for each killing and for an 80-year-old defendant it was essentially the same sentence.

Then the judge takes a day and sentences the mean, old codger to 60 years in jail, telling him firmly that the law doesn't care if the killer is a young man or an elderly man when it dispenses its sentences.

Contrast this to the high profile trials in California. It is a matter of weeks versus six to nine months. The cost was probably in the thousands to conduct the trial rather than $8 to 10 million.

In the case of the Philadelphia, Mississippi case with the whole nation watching and reporters crawling all over the place, justice was dispensed.

In the case of O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake and Michael Jackson, it took a giant hunk of a year to get through the trials, it cost millions and millions of dollars and in none of these three cases was justice dispensed. Three celebrity criminals were allowed to walk, two killers and one child molester.

No murder trial in the South lasts more than a few days and definitely not into the months. Why is that? Well, first we have judges who run the courts. Secondly, we have a mind-set that doesn't allow the foolishness of Southern California judges and lawyers.

We stick firmly to the accusation. OK, you are accused of shooting someone to death. Are there witnesses to the crime or witnesses after the crime who have pertinent information? Do we have the weapon? What do the forensic witnesses say about the shooting, the physical evidence?

We do not introduce baby pictures of the accused. We do not play cell phone conversations. We do not allow anyone who had ever lived in the same town as the accused to testify. We do not bring down national comedians who testify about the accused and then fly back home and get on television that same week and make jokes about the person accused of the crime and his guilt.

In fact, we don't make jokes about serious crimes in the South. We try the perpetrators and we put them in prison. Does everyone guilty of a crime get convicted in the South? No. Is every single person convicted of a crime actually guilty of that crime. No and that is why we have appeals. Yes, we have some glaring travesties of justice, but our whole justice system is not a travesty as it appears to be in Southern California.

If you sit in and watch some trials which I did as a kid since my father was a lawyer (no, he didn't have horn rim glasses, wear a seersucker suit and talk like Gregory Peck) and also since as a reporter I covered a lot of trials.

A California judge allows questioning to go on for days. A Southern judge says something like this: "You have asked that same exact same question twice in different ways. Now ask another question and move on with it." The lawyer says: "But your honor." "But nothing. Ask another question."

A lawyer in California raises an objection. The judge says, "OK, let's have a hearing tomorrow to discuss you objection." A Southern judge says: "OK, your objection is noted and now move on with your questioning." A judge may also say, " Your objection to this whole line of questioning is noted for the record, so sir, do not stand up and object to every question being asked this witness."

There is also a lot of "stipulating." For us regular people, that means that both sides agree to a whole series of fact and we stipulate that all of it is correct. That knocks out hours of testimony and countless appeals.

For the record, in the killing of the three young men in Mississippi I would have to say the reaction to the verdict and sentence broke down in three parts. A great many younger people raised years later cannot fathom what it was like and are not riveted by the fact that justice finally prevailed. It was not part of their past and is not even on their radar screen. For some older unreconstructed Southerners, they don't believe justice was done because they didn't see anything wrong with the killings. And then the third are those of us who celebrate that whether you are a key Nazi hunted down after World War II for years or whether you are a mean little redneck in Mississippi, Mother Justice will finally prevail.

Delta flies a number of flights from Los Angeles to the South every day and we urge jurists there to climb on one and come down and watch how justice should work.

Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor for the News Daily and can be reached at bpaslay@news-daily.com or at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257.