Originally created 11/08/97

Incompetent counsel



Defense attorneys for the British baby sitter convicted of murdering an infant in her care is asking the Massachusetts judge to bail them out of their own moronic mistake.

The arrogant team -- one of whom is Barry Scheck of O.J. Simpson fame -- was convinced the 19-year-old would never be convicted of murder. But they weren't sure jurors wouldn't settle on a lesser charge as a compromise, so they asked that jurors not be allowed to consider manslaughter.

According to all those TV court analysts, Scheck's move was brilliant. The only problem is it didn't work. The jury was focused on the dead infant, not so-called brilliant defense strategy.

The tot's skull was crushed. The au pair was the only person around who could have done it. The jury couldn't just let her go. So they found her guilty of second degree murder -- the lesser of two options to hold her accountable. The mandatory sentence is life, meaning no parole hearing for 15 years.

The Scheck-led defense team -- and it seems the British empire -- are demanding the judge use his power, granted under Massachusetts law, to overturn the verdict, or at least reduce the charge to manslaughter, permitting a much shorter sentence.

A few points of order here. First, if trial judges (rather than appeal courts) can toss out jury verdicts, why have jury trials at all? Just let the judge decide.

Second, in this country (as in Britain), verdicts are not determined by public opinion. If they were, O.J. Simpson would be in prison today.

Third, it's clear now the all-or-nothing defense strategy wasn't brilliant. It was dumb. The best case to be made for a new trial is that the young au pair was stuck with incompetent defense counsel.