When I first read about the Duke scandal, I was sure that the new DA in Durham, Mike Nifong, had evidence to justify a trial. I was sure that three Duke Lacrosse players would be serving time behind bars for violating a woman. Even as Nifong’s tactics first came under fire, I defended Nifong, and told people that crimes are not created by District Attorneys. DAs prosecute people using real evidence and witness statements. Of course, now that Mike Nifong has been tried for professional misconduct, for hiding exculpatory evidence, now that Nifong has been disbarred, I had to seriously rethink the power we give to District Attorneys across America.
We all know that old saying, “A District Attorney can indict a ham sandwich.” A District Attorney presents one side to a grand jury, and then can lead ordinary citizens down a path to an indictment. Is that justice in our country? As a crime writer and journalist for 25 years, I have attended many high profile trials, and I know the lengths that DA Tom Sneddon went to – in order to convince a jury that Michael Jackson was guilty of three things: Lewd acts upon a child; Serving alcohol to a child; and Conspiracy to hold that child (and his family) hostage at Neverland.
When I covered the case for FOX news, I, like most other media folks, was convinced that Jackson was guilty on all counts – even though the trial had not yet started. Most media folks covering the Jackson trial wanted DA Sneddon to be right. Why? Because putting Jackson behind bars would be a media bonanza – it would make Paris Hilton’s stint in jail seem like the “bubble gum” that it is. Jackson behind bars would create a billion dollar tabloid industry, with a story-a-day about Jackson’s suicide watches, his visitors, his family, and his “crazed” fans. Ratings and dollars seemed to be motivating the media, and the truth behind DA Sneddon’s allegations – just like the truth behind DA Nifong’s allegations – was not the focus of any news reports.
On the day that Michael Jackson was released from the Santa Maria courtroom, exonerated by a jury of all 14 charges against him, I noticed that the media in the room went numb. On that day, I looked at DA Sneddon for the first time and realized that, just like Mike Nifong, he’d become “the emperor who had no clothes.”
But instead of being held accountable for a five-month trial and a complete waste of taxpayer dollars, DA Sneddon was secretly applauded by the law enforcement community surrounding him. Law enforcement seemed happy that Jackson’ reputation was ruined. Media didn’t report that, like Mike Nifong, it was Tom Sneddon who created a conspiracy to put Jackson behind bars. Unlike Mike Nifong, Tom Sneddon was never held to account for the public ordeal.
People spoke “behind-the-scenes” about the bias the Santa Barbara DA had against the King of Pop. People whispered about DA Sneddon’s alleged vendetta against the pop star. In my opinion, DA Sneddon, like DA Nifong, should have been brought up on charges for professional misconduct, or at the very least, should have been outed by the media for his bogus accusations.
Looking back on my coverage of the Jackson trial for FOX News, I realize I was following the “pack mentality” of the media – a dangerous trend. It wasn’t until I went back to Santa Maria, to review the evidence alone in the courthouse basement a year later, that I realized that Jackson’s accuser, when taped by police, was cunning and deceitful in his original police interview. DA Tom Sneddon appeared to have an agenda, and law enforcement stood behind him, hopeful that they would imprison the King of Pop, or, at the very least, ruin his reputation forever.
It became clear that the Santa Barbara DA had no real evidence. He only had the words of a child who, on the stand, admitted he lied under oath on previous occasions. In fact, trial testimony would prove that, long before they met Jackson, the accuser and his family had filed a case alleging sexual molestation, involving JC Penney guards and their mom. The idea that Michael Jackson was brought to face criminal charges based on the statements of admitted liars, based on the words of a family of proven grifters -- suddenly seemed ludicrous.
To this day, no one in the media has called DA Tom Sneddon out on the carpet. As for the Duke Lacrosse players, even though Mike Nifong has been dethroned, how do these young men regain their reputations after being subject to such public spectacle? How do people redeem themselves after being powerless, at the hands of a biased DA? At least the Duke Lacrosse players now have the media on their side, but will they ever be able to live normal lives, without constantly being reminded of this scandal?
Even though we now know that the Duke players were “set up” by DA Nifong, doubts and suspicions will linger in everyone’s minds about what improprieties went on that night in their frat house. Similarly, though Michael Jackson was completely exonerated, two years later, people have doubts about the “Not Guilty” verdicts in June of 2005. Many people believe Jackson was found “Not Guilty” because of a star-crazed jury and because of Jackson’s “star power.” Nothing could have been further from the truth.
I allege that, just as in the case against the Duke Lacrosse players, the case against Jackson was trumped up. Why? Because some District Attorneys want to make a “name” for themselves. District Attorneys, we now know, hope that notoriety will help them win an election. People need to realize that a biased DA can perpetuate untold damage on any one of us.
I think it’s time that people ask themselves, “Do DA’s have too much power? Should their offices be subject to more public scrutiny?” I use the case of the Duke Lacrosse players and the case of Michael Jackson to prove that District Attorneys can accuse anyone of anything, without having hard evidence, and these powerful individuals have no real “check system” in place to keep them honest. Instead, they have the media at their heels, ready to pounce on anyone assumed to be guilty before standing trial. What ever happened to “innocent before proven guilty” in this country?
–Aphrodite Jones, author of
Michael Jackson Conspiracy