Monday, January 11, 2016

Crowdsourcing Crime Fighting

I'm sure by now you've heard there's a new show everyone's talking about. I can't explain exactly why things like this take off, but the national obsession is very, very real. This month that obsession is this show:



In case you missed it, the story goes like this:

  • Man serves 18 years in jail for crime he didn't commit
  • Man is released
  • Man sues the county and its sheriff
  • Woman disappears while on that same man's property
  • Man allegedly is framed for the murder by the very sheriff's department he's suing

Basically, as always happens, the government is saying, "Whatever" to the fact that the public is outraged about this. Which only makes the public more outraged. Usually the public goes away eventually and the government gets away with it...not sure if that will happen this time.



Unfortunately, there are people sitting in jail all over this country who aren't guilty. The fact that so many convicts have been released based on advances in DNA evidence tells us that. False confessions happen. Detectives take shortcuts to get cases closed. Juries are swayed to convict by prejudices and ignorance. It happens.



I'm a true crime fanatic. I'm on Book 11 of Ann Rule's Crime Files series. I just finished marathoning every episode ever of Cold Justice. I've seen so many Dateline NBCs, I can't even remember if I've seen one before when I start watching. And I love, love, love the Maura Murray podcast I'm always telling you guys about.



Like the Serial podcast that was 2014's obsession, both Making a Murderer and Missing Maura Murray have brought a community of amateur detectives. That's a good thing...but it also can be a bad thing. Because, as police are always quick to point out, the public rarely gets the full story on any of these podcasts or documentaries. Not only can the producers/writers not capture every single fact in the limited time they have on air, but they also are only handed information that police have released publicly.

As one police officer put it when the uber-creepy Elisa Lam story went viral:

“The problem with amateur sleuths is they make their assessment(s) based on the limited amount of information law enforcement provides…The media outlets then manipulate the materials to accommodate their needs, leaving the sleuths with only partial truths. When viewed by someone that WANTS to support their agenda or conspiracy theory, they will overlook the reasonable/probable and jump to the possible."

As the public (including celebrities) continues to demand justice for the Making a Murderer "victims," I can't help but think of that quote. Yes, it's good that we now live in a society where people can call public officials on their BS, especially if it actually helps get an innocent person out of jail. But I also can't help but wonder, what if the guys featured in Making a Murderer are actually guilty of brutally murdering this woman?



And what if the public screams so much that they finally let them out of jail? In that instance, is crowdsourced crime fighting really a good thing?

76 comments:

  1. I've seen that poster and his face all around the net, but never knew what it was actually about! It is scary to think how helpless we are in the face of the corrupted justice and law organs

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    1. Watching crime shows, there are MANY times when someone is convicted with plenty of reasonable doubt. Even when most of the signs point to yes, there's always that chance that maybe they're wrong, especially when the evidence is circumstantial. And the Cold Justice show--even though they're doing a good thing and they have helped close a lot of cases--I think they pressure for a resolution, which could possibly make the situation worse. Of course, having a criminal loose on the streets is the worst thing that can happen, but having someone sit in jail for a lifetime when that person is innocent is very bad. And it could happen to anyone.

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  2. That seems an interesting show, and I'll check it out. Greetings!

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    1. It's the show everyone's talking about. I made it to episode 7 and it just got too bogged down in politics for me. My love for True Crime ends when we get into hours of boring courtroom mumbo-jumbo.

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  3. I recently heard of this series, but haven't watched it yet. I sat on a jury once and it was illuminating. When it came to deliberations, I was selected as an alternate so I couldn't vote and wasn't in the room when the jury decided the verdict. The other gal that was also alternate had the same opinion as me: not guilty. But when I heard the guilty verdict I was floored. I asked questions later and it turned out they convicted the young man because he wasn't wearing shoelaces and one of the other jurors said that he was already guilty of another crime and was serving time, hence the no shoelaces, so he probably did the crime. This material wasn't presented in court, and the assumption may have been wrong. He may have been in jail because he didn't have bail money. It still saddens me when I think about it.

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    1. AGH! None of us really know what it's like to be on a jury and only get part of the picture, not to mention the pressure of having to decide someone's fate. I still remember a middle grade author who was in jury selection for the trial of one of the Boston bombers. She wasn't chosen because of her blog. There was nothing questionable on her blog, so she didn't get why, but that was the reason the news reported that she wasn't chosen. I found that interesting. She actually wanted to serve.

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  4. That would be creepy.
    I can see their point with not having all of the evidence.
    Then again, think of all the criminals that go free due to a lack of evidence or get off on a technicality.

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    1. I know...it's pretty disturbing, right? Happens all the time. Yet with O.J., they gave the whole "reasonable doubt" thing. Often many killers reoffend and end up in jail anyway, but there are a lot of one-time murderers who have gotten away with it, sadly.

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  5. I tend not to follow these programs, but do feel that the number of false convictions is another reason to do away with capital punishment.

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    1. That is a good argument for it, but it seems to me they rarely execute anyway. People just sit on death row until they die most of the time. The conditions on death row are worse than in the rest of prison, right? So maybe they just need to create an area for people who would have been sentenced to death and put people there and never execute them.

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  6. Sometimes the truth is never found. The innocent is sentenced and the guilty one walks free.

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    1. Sadly that's the case sometimes. The system is definitely flawed. It's set up so that a "jury of your peers" decides your fate, but do we really trust our fellow human beings' judgment?

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  7. I agree that there is room to be concerned that public outcry is based on facts from a show because those aren't all the facts. The purpose of a show even a crime one and the purpose of a law agency are not the same. I can enjoy crime shows and shows like Dateline, but I need to keep in mind that I'm getting a percentage and not the whole.

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    1. Yes! This^^^. The public grabs onto something and won't let it go and they fill in the gaps with their own suppositions. There's nothing people love more than a good conspiracy theory but unfortunately, the simplest explanation is almost always the right one.

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  8. I love watching true crime programmes. There are so many miscarriages of justice these days that I'm glad we don't have the death sentence in the UK, I'm sure many innocent people have been sent to the gallows in the past and the only way of making sure that this doesn't happen is not to have this punishment. That's not to say that guilty people should be let off lightly.

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    1. There are...and so sad. I think it's gotten better than it was before DNA advancements. Now they can at least exonerate people when the DNA doesn't match. But that often leads them to narrow it down to the one person it "must" be once everyone has been excluded, even if the DNA doesn't match.

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  9. The people screaming for justice are the people who have watched the documentary and taken it as gospel. I know a few people who did a little research beyond the documentary and they think this guy is guilty of the murder. They've pointed out things the documentary twisted to fit the filmmakers' foregone conclusion -- things that aren't quite the whole (publicly-available) story or leave out pertinent facts.

    I haven't watched this, but I know how documentaries work. The person making it has decided to make a point and will leave out contrary evidence or twist it to make it fit the conclusion rather than present the story in a truly objective manner. I haven't watched this for that reason. I know what the people who made it want me to think, but that isn't necessarily the truth.

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    1. Exactly! And you can't argue with people who insist the guy was framed. Was he framed? I don't know. But people are ignoring a lot of facts that point toward "Yes, he did it" and you can't convince them otherwise. He called (disguising his number) and asked for the magazine to send the woman who came out last time--she was last seen walking toward his trailer--and her remains were found in his fire pit. If he didn't kill her, how did she get from his trailer to the fire pit? Nobody seems to care to answer those questions...they just want to shout about him being framed.

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  10. My dad and I used to read a lot of detective and crime stories when I was young. It really interested me then but over the years the interest dwindled and I stopped reading them.

    It's scary to know that innocents are in gail when the guilty are still out there free.
    Hugs,
    JB

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    1. It is sad to know that people have gotten away with crimes like that...and they walk among us.

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  11. I don't watch programs like this. They're too depressing. Yes, I guess I stick my head in the sand, but I can't change anything and prefer looking at the brighter side of life.

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    1. I do understand that. There are limits to what I can take. I don't like to hear details about people being tortured...and I certainly can't watch it. But hearing that someone was murdered, then watching the detectives put the facts together and find justice is enjoyable to me for some reason.

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  12. I'm kind of with Beverly on this one. I can't watch things that feel so icky - that ickiness just stays with me and messes me up.

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    1. Understood! It is an interesting contrast, considering the types of books I write!

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  13. Great post that reminds us that justice is not always served in our courts. A writer friend of mine in Houston is working on a movie project involving a man who was convicted of starting a fire that killed his three children she became friends with and interviewed several times while awaiting his execution. A lot of folks besides her thought he was innocent and should get a new trial but our Texas Governor wouldn't delay his execution and he received the lethal injection. Three years later the Fire Department found new evidence proving his innocence. The case was never "beyond a shadow of doubt," very sad indeed.

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    1. Oh no! That's horrible. I personally feel that circumstantial cases shouldn't qualify for the death penalty but I believe the Ted Bundy case was circumstantial. I'm not sure they had the DNA tech back then to get him on DNA.

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  14. I am also a dedicated watcher of true crime myself and Dateline has been a big show for me for years. My own mother worries about me sometimes. But I tell that I watch for justice and to see the real world not just to see a bunch of murders. There was this case with a rape and murder and even a movie was done, I think the title was Presumed Innocent and a lot of people clamoured for his release. There had to be another trail I think and when DNA was finally done...well he's in prison now so you be the judge. Public outcry can definitely be a good and a bad thing. But I definitely want officials to be held accountable as much as possible. An innocent person in prison is a terrible thing and that is before even getting into the unjust sentences that send people away for an unnecessary long times for crimes that don't need such length prison sentences.

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    1. I think the justice system can never be 100 percent perfect but someone needs to hold local authorities accountable. It's too easy for small towns to cover things up. There's a police officer who may have murdered his wife, but it was ruled a suicide...and over the years it's been hotly debated whether it was really murder or not. He got away with it, if it wasn't murder.

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  15. Very interesting. I've been reading quite a bit of true crime in recent years. (Right now, I am reading about a very nonviolent crime but interesting real case of a rare map thief.) You make some good points in this post. On the one hand, we want to avoid scenarios as you mentioned where there are false confessions, sloppy detective work or prejudiced juries to put an innocent person in jail. On the other hand, this crowd of amateur sleuths may not have adequate information, and we certainly don't want dangerous criminals released. What a tricky business.

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    1. There are things the police will never release for various reasons...and it's too easy for conspiracy theorists to come up with wild ideas. That happened in the Elisa Lam case. The truth ended up not being as interesting as the mystery of what happened to her. People actually enjoy the speculation, I think. I love a good mystery, as well...but I also recognize these are human lives and police are there to solve a crime. The people who become amateur sleuths are there as hobbyists and that's fine--as long as they stay out of the real detectives' way.

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  16. The mistakes that are made are one of the reasons I am against the death penalty. And amateur sleuths would be no better.

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    1. I agree. I think if you left it up to these conspiracy theorists, the criminal justice system would be a huge mess.

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  17. I had to read this post with my hands over my eyes because I haven't watched the show yet and really want to. It's downloaded and ready to go!

    In some cases, public outrage can set innocents free. I was really glad it worked in the case of the West Memphis Three. Without public intervention, those three men would have died in prison for a crime they didn't commit.

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    1. I tried to avoid spoilers, but I hope I didn't give anything away. I stopped watching around episode 8 and I started drifting away, attention-wise, around episode 6. But I do urge everyone to watch and judge for themselves. Yes, so glad they figured out the West Memphis Three. I think even Justin Timberlake got involved in that? Or was it Mark Wahlberg? Some big star...

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  18. This show doesn't interest me because I am highly aware of all the injustice in our court system. It pisses me off to no end. But, c'est la vie, you know? As long as the masses are ignorant of said injustices and unwilling to do something about it, it shall continue. Do you know how many people tell me they don't even vote and then are like, "I can't believe this happens in court! I can't believe people are in jail that are innocent!!" Well, go vote. Voting at the local level REALLY does matter, and for goodness sakes educate yourself about who is running for office. So many judges in our area were elected because honestly, no one knew who to vote for and just voted for the better looking candidate (no lie). And those judges blowwwww.
    I could go on and on about this soapbox but hey, it's one of the many reasons I quit practicing law!!

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    1. They asked the White House for a pardon and the White House at least considered it, but directed people back to the local courts, since the Prez doesn't have the authority to pardon local cases. The local govt. has said no to a pardon...the governor doesn't do pardons. I do wonder, however, if the governor didn't review the case and see the details the public is choosing to ignore and issue that "I don't pardon" excuse as a graceful way out.

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  19. My rule of thumb if ever tasked with sitting on a jury who must decide if someone is a murderer - if the evidence is all circumstantial, then I ask myself the question, "If the circumstances were to have me in the shoes of the charged, would I convict myself?"

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    1. That is definitely true! Of course, the problem is, you can sometimes think of the family and think, "If this were my loved one who was murdered, wouldn't I want justice?" It's SO hard. I can't imagine having to sit on a jury on a murder case.

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  20. I heard about it but didn't know much about it

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  21. I saw it all over Fb. People are really talking about this show. I'm thinking of getting the dvds now to watch.

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    1. If you have a Netflix account, you can just start watching. It's all out there.

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  22. I'm almost convinced this is where my obsession with criminal/mystery fiction stems from - the corrupt legal system of our unfortunate government that is. It's like, since I can't get a sense of justice from the real world, I resort to fictional worlds instead. So tragic, I know!

    Anyway, I've heard about this show, but am one of the few who have yet to see it. I'm not sure if I want to though, as I tend to radically obsess over circumstances and events. That doesn't mean I won't cave in though ;)

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    1. The first few episodes will pull you right in. There's one on Netflix called "Cropsey" that's even better, I think, but it's more about a crime and the fact that because the murders were perpetrated against mentally challenged kids, it wasn't treated the same as it would have been if they weren't mentally challenged.

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  23. Compelling post, Stephanie! I am a true crime fanatic but my husband is most definitely not so I have to get my fill at odd hours. I must say, Elephant's Child brought up one of the most convincing arguments against the death penalty that I've heard to date: corruption. Such a shame. Have you read 'Fatal Vision' by Joe McGinness?

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    1. I saw the miniseries when I was a teenager. It was THE thing to watch. It had the boss from Office Space. Great movie. However, I did just read that the book has been questioned by several publications since because the author took some liberties with the facts?

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  24. I enjoy fictionalized murder mysteries if they aren't too graphic, but the true crimes bother me. Too much realism for me.

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    1. I could see that! Oddly, I don't get into fictionalized mysteries too much. I'm not sure why that is!

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    2. I'm reading a lot more mysteries than I used to. There's some great mystery writers out there.

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  25. This is on my list of shows to watch, but haven't gotten around to yet. I am always skeptical about documentaries like this. As you point out, they don't have the whole story -- and for all we know, they are only showing the facts they want to show. They aren't under oath. They have no obligation to tell the whole truth.

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    1. They definitely pull out the facts they want. I believe the prosecutor has even publicly stated that there were many pieces of evidence against this guy that weren't mentioned in the documentary. And several journalists have listed out all the evidence against him that we DO know and they're pretty compelling. I mean, she was on HIS property when she went missing and her remains were found in his fire pit. Maybe some evidence was planted but if he didn't do it, who did? And what happened after she walked toward his trailer and was never seen again? Did someone grab her and whisk her off, then bring her remains back and burn them in his fire pit? Seems like a pretty elaborate setup to me.

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  26. I sometimes read or watch crime books and shows. I find the investigations interesting, although the crimes themselves are saddening. I feel for anyone innocent locked up.

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    1. I can watch Criminal Minds until they get into where they're showing torture. I actually had to stop watching Scandal because there was a male character on the show who randomly tortured people as a back story. I just can't take that.

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  27. Corruption is a real life problem and sometimes it is horrible to think that there are people serving time in a prison who don't deserve it while the true culprits are running around free. It's horrible to think that short cuts are taken in order to get cases closed from time to time. But the truth of the matter is that it does happen, and it is so sad that it does. But thinking in the larger scale of things, I am not sure what I would do to combat this?

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    1. I do think (not necessarily in this case) that police detectives will rush to try to get a case closed and sometimes push things that shouldn't be pushed. Cold Justice actually showed me more about the iffiness of detective work. They'd suddenly eliminate someone as a suspect, saying, "He just doesn't seem guilty," then suddenly start stacking up the evidence against someone else. Yikes!

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  28. I haven't watched the Netflix show yet, though I'm curious about it and will probably watch at some point. People who are guilty are released all the time, sometimes because of reasons such as overcrowding in prisons. People who are innocent spend years in prison and sometimes go to the execution chamber unjustly. I don't have a solution to these problems that can begin immediately. We need to spend our tax dollars on better schools, better teachers, and homes for the homeless instead of more prisons. We need to stop locking up people for the rest of their lives when they are 19 years old and caught with a little pot for the third time. Internet sleuths can be helpful mainly for keeping a case alive. Too often, the police focus on some person of interest and decide they've found the perpetrator and they close the case. I know someone who has done meticulous research on the Chandra Levy case and has tried to keep it alive. I have seen the video of Elisa Lam before. I read the entire article to which you provided a link. I lived with someone who has bipolar disorder and had a psychotic break. I watch the video and every time, I think "psychosis." That's doesn't mean I'm right. It means that based on my experience, she appears to be manic/psychotic. It also seems as if the LAPD didn't try very hard to investigate the case.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Okay, now I can't remember if it's in that article or I read it somewhere else, but it was brought out that Elisa Lam had suffered some sort of psychotic break--which caused her to climb up on that ladder to the roof, climb into the water tank, and pull the top over her to hide. That's where she died. The most recent season of American Horror Story was based on her story--although I haven't watched it because after season 1 (which I loved!), that show got way too violent and disturbing for me.

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  29. This is something else we have in common, Stephanie. I am a true crime junkie. I think I've read every one of Ann Rule's books. I can watch hours and hours of ID television marathons. A friend was just telling me about this Netflix series you're referring to. I've been really interested to see it.

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    1. Another Ann Rule fan! So cool!!! I started with the Ted Bundy book and am now making my way through the series. But once I get to the end of that, I'm going to hop on over to her other books. I didn't know she wrote Small Sacrifices until I started researching her books. I watched that miniseries when I was younger.

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  30. I just heard Barry Beach (another weird case) speak in Missoula a couple of weeks ago. Another really horrible and fascinating case along these lines. It does make me wonder, that's for sure!

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    1. I'm going to have to look that one up!

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  31. That's the problem with a lot of stuff that's out there. We never get the complete story. We can't. So, what's true and what's fictionalized to make a good story?

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    1. I'd say if you're watching it on TV or reading it in a book and it's interesting, it's probably condensed in a way to paint a certain picture. You kind of get the flow of shows like Dateline and 20/20 after a while. Then you look up the real case and find all kinds of details they left out. Sometimes they make it more obvious the person did it, sometimes less, but either way it's odd that they choose to leave out some major details like that.

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  32. I haven't watched it yet, but so many people are talking about the show I probably should. I love Netflix originals, especially since we no longer have cable. I have been involved in a couple stories where the info related by the media and officials just was not correct. I tend to think that there is always much more to a story than we know.

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    1. Yeah, and if the media doesn't have it right to start with, then the public fills in its own blanks when they talk about these cases online or in documentaries, the whole thing becomes a hybrid of fiction and fact.

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  33. I have not seen this show but I can see where frustration comes in. There are innocent people who land in prison and there are guilty people who get free (O.J) because of a technicality or they have the money for good lawyers. The police are also guilty of trying to find someone fast to close the case

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    1. But they caught up with O.J., didn't they?! Arrogance seems to always catch up with someone in the long run.

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  34. That's one thing that deeply hurts me; INJUSTICE. I'm a crime fanatic as well, so I love to delve into cold, high profile, and little known cases. This so called justice system in America is so full of holes.

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  35. Interesting post you raise some good scary points. The most important thing is to try to get at the truth.

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  36. I really do wish the world was more ideal. Humans for whatever reason, ego or stupidity, make mistakes or worse jump to conclusions. Science is the best method to keep things just.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

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  37. You make some valid points. Justice should not be swayed by popular opinion. It should be based on facts.

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  38. They need to look at the evidence at hand and not be swayed by opinion.

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  39. That's an interesting perspective. Hysteria over trying to make things right could actually have the opposite effect. Like others have said, facts and evidence are the most important things.

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  40. I'm a true crime fanatic as well :). I had to laugh about you saying you've seen so many Datelines that you're not sure if you've seen the one you're watching. I can so relate! I've seen this guy's face on the commercials but wasn't sure what the show was about. Thanks for the info. I may have to check it out.

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  41. This is why I couldn't be on a jury. I'd be too afraid of being wrong with the verdict.

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  42. Your blog is always so interesting and fun to read. It's true, there are two sides to every story, and most of these shows have an agenda. Very seldom do they showcase both sides of the story. Case in point is the Penn and Teller show of years back, BS. They made some great episodes, but some, not so great. When they were not debunking con artists, they were attempting to call BS on various other grey area matters. Sometimes the only evidence they provided were their own reasoning and video clips of people they interviewed who stumbled and stammered all over the place because they were clearly put on the spot and/or poor public speakers.

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  43. I tried watching the series because everyone was raving about it but I just couldn't get into it. Maybe I should go back and try again.

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