Column: Jury didn't make a partisan call
Donald Van Brunt
10/1/2013 6:01:00 AM
By Doug McMurdo
Donald Van Brunt was acquitted of child molestation charges last week. The jury that arrived at that verdict has been attacked by some in the community as being part of some "good old boys" conspiracy to willfuly miscarry justice due to Van Brunt's conservative credentials.
The thinking goes, I guess, that Republican county leaders will turn a blind eye to acts of depravity committed by one of their own - simply because they share the same political philosophy.
The jury got it right. Prosecutor Greg McPhillips did his very best to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Van Brunt, 83, sexually molested two boys years ago.
The sad fact is, the alleged victims in the case have made such a mess of their young lives, have made so many poor choices and one of them has told so many lies over the years that they simply could not be believed.
Don't ask me if I think Van Brunt got away with one. What I think doesn't matter.
What matters to me is that there are people out there who think the law and order community in Mohave County is bereft of integrity and has no interest in pursuing justice.
For those who think that's the case, I submit the following:
A conservative Mohave County grand jury indicted Van Brunt. A conservative county attorney brought charges against Van Brunt. A conservative prosecutor in McPhillips fiercely fought for Van Brunt's conviction and a conservative judge in Derek Carlisle made sure both sides played by the rules.
The fact that a jury undoubtedly full of citizens with conservative values found Van Brunt not guilty is mere coincidence.
I defy anyone to assemble 12 people over 18 years of age in Mohave County and not have a majority of them be conservatives.
In fact, if I were one of the 12, the odds are good I'd be the only one who doesn't subscribe to the politics of the right.
I'm no partisan when it comes to the justice system. When it fails, and it does from time to time, the foundation of our nation erodes a chunk at a time. More than gun rights, more than freedom of religion, more than the right to free speech that I'm exploiting right now, the right to a fair trial is the most important element of our Constitution.
A fair trial may not be the most popular right, but it's the most important because nothing protects Americans' individual liberty more than the fourth, fifth and sixth amendments in the Bill of Rights.
Let's look at it a bit deeper. To suggest a jury that consists of our friends and neighbors would willfully find a child molester not guilty just because they all hate President Barack Obama is ludicrous.
The fact of the matter is the state failed to meet its burden of proof. I sat in the trial from opening statements through the reading of the verdict and the jury got it right based on the testimony.
In my experience, which includes covering hundreds of trials in several jurisdictions, juries almost always get it right. This isn't to suggest guilty people don't get acquitted or innocent people don't get convicted. It simply means juries take their duty with great solemnity and they usually decide a case on its merits.
Mark Twain was right when he said something to the effect that a jury consists of 12 people chosen to pick which side has the better lawyer.
I'm not saying Van Brunt's attorneys were better than McPhillips - he's actually quite good at what he does - but they certainly were able to raise enough reasonable doubt for the jury to reach the verdict it did.
The system isn't perfect, but what is in this world?
On a more personal level, I truly hope the alleged victims in this case are able to get their lives together, stay off drugs and out of trouble and go on to lead happy and productive lives.