Editorial reposted from the Press of Atlantic City (NJ)on Octobery 18, 2007
THE PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE
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.