Originally created 04/08/04

Miscarriage of justice

The latest twist in the Tyco mistrial illustrates a troubling phenomenon - perhaps brought on by persons addicted to cable news channels' 24-hours, 7-days-a-week cycle: Some viewers become more than addicted to certain stories - they begin to think they're actually part of the story.

Exhibit 1 is the clown who sent controversial 79-year-old Tyco juror Ruth Jordan a letter excoriating her for not voting to convict former top Tyco executives Dennis Koslowski and Mark Swartz on several counts of stealing tens of millions from the company.

Jordan, reportedly the only juror on the 12-member panel holding out for acquittal, gained notoriety for flashing an "A-OK" sign to the defense during a break in deliberations after jurors met with the judge.

That's apparently what triggered the menacing letter, prompting New York Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus to declare a mistrial - after six long months of testimony and 11 days of agonizing deliberations.

The letter writer claims he wasn't trying to intimidate the juror - that he was just letting her know what he thought. Besides, he said he mistakenly believed the trial was over when he wrote the missive.

Hello? Does that fact ring any bells? Here's a guy who thought he knew what the trial's outcome should be, yet didn't even know whether it was still going on! The word idiot doesn't quite cover it.

Why should anyone care what some schmuck at home thinks anyway? He apparently got so caught up in the Tyco trial that he went from being a follower of the story to a participant.

Trials don't need extraneous participants to gum up the works. Prosecutors and defense attorneys do a good enough job of that on their own.

Case in point: Did the Tyco trial really need to take half a year? It seems pretty straightforward: Present the evidence that Koslowski and Swartz looted their company by awarding themselves and other execs hundreds of millions of dollars in undeserved bonuses. And then sit down.

Indeed, what they are alleged to have done was like robbing a bank in broad daylight. If the charges are true, they didn't even try to hide their thievery; their defense was they didn't realize they were stealing, that it wasn't their intent. Without "intent" they could not be convicted of the most serious counts they were accused of. It was on that issue that Jordan reportedly held out for acquittal.

However, she apparently was finally ready to go along with the guilty verdicts. Then the letter arrived and all that time and taxpayer money - these trials are expensive - went down the drain. Now prosecutors will have to start all over from scratch.

It could be months before a retrial is scheduled, and many months more before it begins. The irony is that the letter writer who so badly wanted the Tyco executives found guilty may turn out to be the principal reason they end up walking, if that's the outcome. Certainly Koslowski and Swartz have a better shot at acquittal now than they did before the letter was written.

This is a very important case. The charges run to the very heart of capitalism - and whether it even has a heart. What allegedly occurred at Tyco represents the very worst of the free-market system.

So let's be more concise next time. Prosecutors must realize that high-profile trials draw the loonies out of the woodwork, and that the longer the trials drag on, the more likely it is something can happen to cause a mistrial. They've got to consolidate their evidence and make a more efficient presentation. There's no reason why it should take six months to try these guys.

Nor should it take long to decide to put the letter writer - whose identity has not yet been released - on trial for jury tampering. If his interference in the jury process lets Tyco's alleged crooks off the hook, then he at least ought to spend some time in jail. It might teach other busybodies not to poke their nose into proceedings where it doesn't belong.


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