The elephant in the room

I have corrected this post to reflect the fact that Mr. Cline is no longer with the firm to which I referred and does, in fact, practice criminal law. My apologies for that error.


Last March in a well-to-do neighborhood just outside of the City of Binghamton, a daughter and a son of prominent local families were found brutally murdered in her house. The prime suspect, not surprisingly, was her estranged husband who happens to be African American. At the time I questioned whether he could get a fair trial in Broome County. My concern was motivated, in part, by the seemly endless outpouring of truly vile racist comments on local media websites by people using such screen names as Bull Conner, DellaBeckwith, Emmitt Till, and Nate B Forrest, accompanied by avatars that would have been shocking in 1960s Alabama. And those comments, more often than not, garnered significant numbers of “likes.” I would not have been terribly surprised had the accused been lynched.

More than a year later by the luck of the draw I was called and selected to be an alternate juror at the trial of the estranged husband. My observation was that the Broome County Sheriff’s Department, supported by the New York State Police, did a competent job collecting and analyzing evidence at the scene but that the prosecution did a poor job of assembling the evidence into a coherent narrative. Rather, they focused on specific parts of the story, leaving huge gaps between them.

The defense attorney was a public defender who, while admitted to the bar in 1992, appears to have only recently changed the focus of his practice from medical malpractice to criminal law. To say that his defense of the accused was inept is being generous. He utterly failed to mount a credible rebuttal to the state’s case.

The irony is that the prosecution showed that the defendant’s race was completely irrelevant within his circle of friends. I certainly detected no bias among the members of the jury or from the police. The only time race seemed to come up was during jury selection when the county attorney pressed the one black potential juror about whether, being a minister, he could convict someone of murder. It sounded to me as though he was most concerned about the possibility of jury nullification. In any event, that black juror was seated as an alternate.

At the end of the trial, I came out of the experience no longer questioning whether a black man could get a fair trial in Broome County but wondering whether anyone could. And that is the real elephant in the room.


4 Responses to “The elephant in the room”

  1. 1 Leo Cotnoir August 2, 2014 at 21:56

    Mirella, I made those comments online more than a year ago. I wish I could take them back in light of what I have learned since then. I think you will find that what I blog is better thought out and researched. It is not my intent to hurt anyone in any way.

  2. 2 Leo Cotnoir August 2, 2014 at 21:57

    You are entitled to your reading of that questioning, but I the person in question had the same reaction to it as I did.

  3. 3 Leo Cotnoir August 3, 2014 at 00:32

    Nothing I have written on this blog is about your son. My comments are about the legal system and the fact that the burden of proof as to the identity of his killer was, in my opinion, not met. If you do not like what I write, don’t read it. And I strongly suggest that you not threaten me for exercising my right to comment on a public matter. If you do so again, I will take it up with the court. This is my blog; your comments are here at my sole discretion.

  4. 4 Leo Cotnoir August 3, 2014 at 11:04

    I refer to your son’s murder in a generic sense. No where have I ever suggested that whoever killed him should not be brought to justice. My observation is that the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that person to have been Aaron Powell. I don’t know why this is so hard to understand.

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