Friday, October 19, 2007

The presumption of innocence / Do keep it in mind

Editorial reposted from the Press of Atlantic City (NJ)on Octobery 18, 2007


Do keep it in mind

Innocent until proven guilty.

It's an important concept. America's system of justice hinges on it. And it doesn't just protect creeps. It protects you, too. It hasn't done much for Terry Oleson, though.

Oleson lived at the Golden Key Motel in West Atlantic City, doing odd jobs for rent, when the bodies of four prostitutes were found in the marshes near the motel in November.

Officials with the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office never named Oleson a suspect in the murders. But he was questioned in connection with the murders. And Atlantic County investigators searched his Alloway Township home. He also submitted DNA samples to investigators. There's nothing wrong with any of that - it's how investigations work.

But it was enough to put Oleson at the center of a media firestorm that made him guilty in the eyes of many. And it helped keep him in the Salem County jail for more than six months.

It didn't help that Oleson is not likely to ever be named the Chamber of Commerce's man of the year. He was arrested in April by Salem County officials and charged with videotaping an underage girl naked without her knowledge. But he was jailed on $100,000 full cash bail - which is higher than usual for that charge.

Again, Oleson's no angel. But those six months in the Salem County jail had something to do with the West Atlantic City murders, even if no one wants to acknowledge that inconvenient fact. Finally, last week, Oleson pleaded guilty to the videotaping charge; a judge lowered his bail to $25,000; his family posted a 10-percent bond, and Oleson was released pending a Nov. 27 sentencing.

On Friday, he plans to hold a press conference at his lawyer's office. One person who plans to attend is an Atlantic City prostitute who was sure that Oleson was a customer named "Eldridge," who told her he had hurt some women. The prostitute was certain about that - until she saw Eldridge again in Atlantic City, while Oleson was still in jail. Now she wants to apologize.

We can't quite bring ourselves to say that the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office or the news media owe Oleson an apology. The prosecutor and the media were just doing their jobs.

But it is a good time to note that truth is difficult, that things are not always what they seem. And that's why people are tried in the courts, not the "court" of public opinion, which is really no court at all.

And to those who will say that we are naive, that we do not know what authorities know about Oleson, that this editorial will come back to haunt us: Fine. Just prove it. Until then, Terry Oleson is, regarding the West Atlantic City murders, an innocent man.


Anonymous said...

In west Texas, you are guilty until you can prove otherwise. This is a fact, but an unspoken one. A jury listened to the evidence of the state who produced only the testimony of a student against the teacher she and every witness for the state admitted she had a "crush" on. The only other evidence was a SANE exam, but the student had told many others that she thought she was pregnant several times in the school year preceding the "assault". She, however, swore to the court that she was a virgin. The state's case was falling apart after the teacher testified and brought forward witnesses proving her times and dates of the "assault" could not have happened, so the student accuser was brought back to the stand. She swore that her teacher had a mole on his back that was so large she felt it with her hand during the "assault". So the teacher raised his shirt to the jury and showed that there was no mole as the accuser had claimed. Yet the jury came back with a verdict of guilty on all charges. Midland, Texas has a different set of rules than the rest of the country. No proof is necessary for a claim of sexual assault. All you need is a student to come forward. Your next stop will be the jail. And you will never be able to have your life back.

Anonymous said...

To the comment have hit the nail on the head! All a student has to do is "claim" molesting has occured and you have a complete uproar. Where is the evidence? It's a "your word against mine" case many many times. We haven't let go of the highschool bathroom wall mentality. If it's written on the bathroom must be true! Ridiculous!!!