July 20, 2005

Jury News

Mr Neil Falloon writes...

I'm surprised by the repeated media opportunities afforded the wife of a convicted rapist to rail at her husband's jury. There's heaps of examples to choose from. The most recent was the Sunday Star Times front page: Wife of rape accused stands by her man.

It was followed by a strange feature article that used experts to guess at what the jury was thinking, despite the fact that some evidence remains suppressed.

Why is it that we're hearing so much from this woman? Why, a week after the trial ended, did one newspaper decide she was deserving of the front page? From their treatment of this woman's views, you would think that it was unusual for families of convicted criminals to continue to believe in their man (or woman).

Surely that's not the case. Isn't this woman responding to the conviction just as hundreds of other spouses do every year? She's angry and hurt. Therefore she questions the entire system that found this man and his peers guilty of pack rape.

To me, it would only be unusual, unexpected and newsworthy if the family member declared, "I once believed in this man's innocence, but the fact that he's been found guilty by his peers has changed my mind."

Everybody has the right to question the outcome of a trial. That's a right we should defend.

But should this woman's opinion in itself be news? Again and again? And on the front page? It seems almost like we're only hearing from her because she's media savvy. Most other spouses in her position are not competent at working with journalists. She's literate, eloquent and middle-class.

Some journalists apparently only attended the defence's summing up. It seems interesting that the reporters who did attend every day don't seem to have engaged in the same second-guessing of the jury's motives as other journalists.

This case is made more complicated by suppression orders. The wife's name can't even be revealed. There are key details none of us know.

The twelve members of the jury are not allowed to respond. They sat through weeks of evidence in a gruesome pack rape trial. They cannot tell us how they reached their conclusion.

Should we now expect that every single spouse of every single convicted criminal will be given front-page treatment to criticise the jury?

Somehow, I don't think so.

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