Okay, so you're in the courtroom, defending yourself against a murder you did not commit. You have plenty of evidence to support your innocence, and the prosecution has only supposition and imagination. Amidst it all...the daily fear of being condemned for a crime you had nothing to do with, the spectacle of a prosecutor who would wave a bat through the air like it was a murder weapon even after it had been dismissed as possible evidence, and feeling very small after your character had been methodically ripped to shreds by cherry-picked accounts of your history...the judge asks your attorney a question.
There is only silence. So she asks again.
This time he looks up at her, smiles slightly, and replies:
"Sorry, I was daydreaming."
I've been pulling my punches when it comes to court-appointed attorneys. This is mostly because I wanted to explore the very important evidence of innocence for Kirstin's case, and I can get rather up in arms when it comes to people being harmed by a lack of proper defense. But I think the time has come to turn my thoughts in that direction.
In my last post, I talked about the prosecutor's close-minded hunt for a conviction in the face of evidence that Kirstin was innocence. To be honest, I find Kephart's actions pretty understandable, if distasteful in this case. He has probably put some people behind bars that need to be there, and that is by most measures a good thing. He was essentially doing his job and what he probably thought was the right thing, even if he did do it with a sort of blind fanaticism.
If only Kirstin's public defender had possessed that sort of focus, that sort of dedication to his job. Unfortunately, when looking at her trial, it is obvious to see that the prosecution and the defense make a marvelous study in contrasts.
The comment about daydreaming was uttered by Phil Kohn, Kirstin's public defender (and taken from the trial's transcripts). And just so you don't think that this was the only bit of incompetence shown by the public defender's office in her case, consider that her attorneys could not get a specialist who would show that the evidence would exclude Kirstin from the scene on the stand (the article is here). The reason? They were too late in following the proper procedures, a technicality that had nothing to do with the crime, the specialist, Kirstin Lobato, or the evidence being presented.
In their defense (that's kind of a sad phrase to use regarding public defenders, don't you think?), the entire Clark County Public Defender's office is screwed up. But there are more screw-ups from Kirstin's own defense team, and you can be sure I will be returning to this subject.
It should be noted that this is not intended to be a personal attack on either of Kirstin's attorneys, but rather a criticism of the job they have done. In the spirit of this, I'll point out that they aren't the only public defenders to be inept during a trial.
Here is something from the American Civil Liberties Union. CBS News did this report on a sleeping, judge-appointed defense lawyer...but this one is better. And this page has plenty of information on how innocent people get convicted, and much of the other information also pertains to Kirstin Lobato's case.
It makes you wonder how often this happens.
We want to believe that the right thing is being done.
It is the natural course for our psychology, to desire justification for actions and events. We want to say that what happens will come to a positive end, that it was the right course. And there is a very specific correlation there as well...the more painful a circumstance was, the greater our desire to justify our beliefs in the matter. Some people will spend their whole lives trying to justify things that occurred when they were only children.
For systems of law, it is within the words themselves. "Justification" comes from the idea of "justice." To justify is to show that the reasons things occur are - at their core - just reasons. And "conviction" is the affirmation that we are doing the right thing. It keeps us strong, it keeps us steady...and it is an emotional drive that can be valuable beyond compare. We are positive, we are convinced, we believe. And so, in court, it is "convictions" that are rendered.
Unfortunately, the drive to justify and a sense of conviction are not always compatible forces. They can warp one another, until both are useless. You see or hear about it every day. A person who stays in an abusive relationship trying to convince themselves that it could work. An alcoholic who insists they are under control. A murderer who claims he was acting in the name of a god. Conviction, in and of itself, can have nothing to do with being right. Some people spend their whole lives trying to justify things because there is no justification. All they have is their conviction, and that is what carries them through when reality is otherwise. And when they act, it is upon faulty logic that they make their choices. Reality is forced back by their delusions.
Ironic, then, that in courts, where everything revolves around justice and conviction, we do not always make sure that our justice and our conviction is the same thing.
It was the duty of the District Attorney's office to find Duran Bailey's killer and bring him or her to justice. In this quest, they allowed no room to question themselves, no open-minded vision to seek out reality in order to render true justice. The D.A. had his mind set upon conviction: his own conviction, that he was taking the right course of action. To him, a murderer was being taken off the streets. This, despite evidence that to a reasonable person would prove Kirstin Lobato's innocence. Evidence to the contrary did not sway him one bit.
Just as it would not help the woman who refuses to let go of the notion that the man who beats her every week truly loves her. Just as the alcoholic wouldn't blame himself for being fired when his $100-a-week Absolut Vodka addiction made him miss most of work for the third morning in a row. And just as the murderer cloaks himself in faith to deny his own depravity.
All of it is delusion, fed by the fuel of their conviction.
Bill Kephart, the prosecuting attorney in Kirstin's case, was fueled by such a conviction, and it warped justice. He was certainly fueled by his own psychological desires, but he was also supported by the beliefs of the District Attorney's office to which he is allied, and further still by the whole body of society...an entire populace that wants to know justice is being done, and feel conviction when it witnesses a guilty verdict. Society, in this sense, can be unintentionally self-delusional, refusing to even entertain the idea that an innocent can be convicted in the face of justice. I saw evidence of this last night, in the form of poor publicity for this case. But what I saw was, sadly enough, merely accidental...the result of a society that blindly relies on the faith that the right thing is done, in all cases and at all times.
But that is simply not reality. The reality is that Kirstin Lobato is both innocent and convicted. The reality of evidence shows her innocence. It is the deluded drive to get a conviction and call it justice that has resulted in an act of terrible injustice within our justice system. Truth is the casualty of this conviction, and so is Kirstin Lobato's freedom.