The Practice
Liberty Bells (2)

Episode Report Card
Deborah: B | 3 USERS: A
Liberty Bells (2)

Post-commercials, Stuart is brought to the hearing. Just before Smokey the Judge takes his seat, he's off to one side of the courtroom where some other old guy hands him an already lit cigarette. I honestly have no idea what that's about. Smoke 'em if you got 'em, I guess. Everybody's there, including Mr. Kearns, for whom I am feeling a great deal of sympathy. Judge Wood gives Ellenor the floor. She states that they have conclusive evidence that it was not Stuart Donovan who raped Alyssa Kearns on the night of her murder. She also states that the judge has the affidavit relating the information from Slimeball regarding the way Earl Taylor fabricated a convincing confession from Stuart, and that there is also an affidavit from the ex-wife of Mr. Brestler, the alcoholic eyewitness, testifying to his unreliability. He claimed he saw Stuart Donovan go into the Kearns home between 11:30 pm and midnight, and supposedly remembered this because it was during Johnny Carson's show, but that night a Johnny Carson special anniversary show was broadcast between 9:00 pm and 11:00 pm. Mrs. Brestler's affidavit affirms that he was typically passed out from alcohol consumption by 9:00 every evening and would be easily confused about such details.

Ellenor reiterates that Stuart was convicted on three pieces of evidence: a fictionalized confession, the testimony of an alcoholic eyewitness, and a blood-type match which has been conclusively disproven by DNA testing. "As a matter of law, as a matter of simple justice, Stuart Donovan's conviction must be set aside and he must be released immediately." As she sits down, some suit strides in and whispers something to Platt's supervisor, whose name we learn is Stanfield. He stands up and says they won't deny that they were shocked by the DNA evidence. He adds, "We then tested the rape kit, and learned just ten seconds ago [that] it, too, did not match Stuart Donovan." Stanfield claims that his first reaction to learning about the DNA evidence was that Stuart Donovan should be set free; however, he goes on to assert that nothing has really changed so dramatically that it would alter the original verdict. Addressing the various pieces of evidence upon which Stuart was convicted, Stanfield first says that the confession was introduced and challenged at trial and defense is not free to continue challenging it without new evidence, which they lack. He points out that the argument that the confession is false was already rejected by the jury. Stanfield then claims there is nothing to controvert the eyewitness's testimony, which is kind of a weak argument if you ask me. He moves on to the blood-type match, which he maintains was never a big part of the original case; apparently, the prosecution harped on the other two points much more heavily. He states, "The question you have to ask is whether this new evidence is of such character that a different verdict will likely result. The answer to that is 'no,' because there is nothing to disprove either the confession or that testimony. Not then, not now." Smokey the Judge finally speaks, agreeing that there is no basis to throw out the "confession" or the drunk's testimony. He does ask, however, whether the DNA evidence doesn't tell them that someone else committed the crime. Stanfield says that what it indicates it that someone else could have been there, that somebody else could have "made love" to her. (I found this offensive, since I suspect the rape kit probably successfully established that she was indeed raped.) There's no timeline. He contends that it doesn't change the fundamentals of the case, and that moreover, Donovan didn't say anything to Earl Taylor about sexual involvement with the victim, but confessed to the murders of Alyssa and her mother. Therefore, the new evidence does not undermine the veracity of the confession. Smokey the Judge asks, "Do you still think he did it?" Stanfield smugly says that his personal beliefs are not relevant; Smokey growls, "They're relevant to me. Do you think this is the man who killed those women?" Stanfield says he does; given that Stuart and Alyssa had had a heated argument, that there were no signs of forced entry, no fingerprints except for Stuart's, and no apparent motive for anyone else. "Look, he confessed to the crime. You don't free a man just because it turns out that somebody else may have been there at the time." Smokey persists, "But you have to admit, it does change things, if somebody else was there." Stanfield cites a case in Texas where the DNA turned out not to match the defendant, but the court of appeals there refused to grant a new trial, ruling that the DNA evidence did not preclude the presence of a co-conspirator. "You have precedent. You have the verdict of a jury. This court should honour both."

Stanfield's done and he returns to his seat. Eugene whispers to Ellenor, "You can't rest. He was good." Ellenor requests "one more minute." Ellenor stands and confesses that she started getting emotional about this case as soon as she took it on, and finally figured out that what was upsetting her was the realization that people often do not get fair trials in this country. Smokey interrupts to remind her that he was the judge at Donovan's trial. Ellenor: "And I don't doubt that you did everything right, Your Honour. But Stuart Donovan had a public defender who had just finished another capital case forty-eight hours before his trial began, and that public defender wasn't ready for this one. He didn't discover a lot of the things he could have. Defense lawyers, especially public defenders, especially those taking court appointments . . . we just don't have enough time. We just don't have the resources. And it's understandable. Things are bound to fall through the cracks. How could they not? But I have a man facing death here." She goes on to say that technically, from an evidentiary standpoint, Stanfield is correct in saying that both the confession and the eyewitness testimony still hold up. We get a shot of Smokey taking a drag. Ellenor continues, "In reality, a man is going to be executed for a crime he didn't commit. And as I have been pounding my head up against walls, I have continually been hearing, 'Miss Frutt, there is a system. A system of evidence, and appeals . . .' The system doesn't always work, Your Honour. In the last ten years alone, over forty-four people have been released from Death Row for crimes they didn't commit. The system uses jailhouse snitches who fabricate confessions. The system has police lying. The system is very, very fallible. And maybe it is understandable, given the enormous volume of criminal cases today, mistakes happen. Lies happen. It is a byproduct of the system that I can almost comprehend. But what I can't fathom, is when we have the ability to find out the truth through DNA evidence, we don't." She points out that in all but two states, prisoners do not have the right to a simple DNA test that might prove their innocence. Ellenor reminds the judge that he would not order a DNA test, leaving them little choice but to go to the victim's father, who miraculously agreed to their request. And now, even though they feel they have proved Stuart's innocence, it's still not over. She asserts that no one in the room fully believes or trust the testimony of the professional snitch or the drunk. Getting a little more emotional, she asks, "Is our system about getting convictions? Is that it? My co-counsel Eugene Young told me not to take this case personally. How can I not? How can't we all? A man . . . an innocent man is going to die. As human beings, as officers of this court, as players in this . . . system, how do we not take that personally?" She returns to her seat.

After yet more bloody commercials, Stanfield speaks again. He acknowledges Ellenor's emotion and frustration, but asks the court to consider it from the side of the D.A.'s office, and that of the family. He complains about how even when they manage to get a conviction, the defense attorneys keep returning again and

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The Practice




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