Not guilty in Georgetown, S.C.

Congratulations to attorneys John Hilliard and Julia Bass and their client who got a directed verdict of not guilty of murder in Georgetown, S.C. this week. The co-defendant, represented by Wesley Locklair, was acquitted of murder by the jury but found guilty of conspiracy.
When evidence presented at trial merely raises a suspicion of guilt, the judge has a duty to direct a verdict of not guilty (the standard is not “any evidence whatsoever – ” it is that the evidence must do more than merely raise a suspicion of guilt). Usually, when there is a directed verdict of not guilty, something has gone terribly wrong with the prosecution of the case – you have to question the ethics of putting a person on trial for murder or for anything at all when there is not sufficient evidence to go to a jury.
We expect that police will not charge a person with a crime unless there is evidence to prove it. Not true. Police make mistakes. When there is pressure on to make an arrest, as there often is when someone has been murdered, police will create evidence – they will threaten/ coerce/ buy witness testimony against whoever they think the most likely suspect is. Sometimes they will lie.
We expect that when a case comes across a prosecutor’s desk and there is insufficient evidence, or the evidence they find is suspect, that the prosecutor will announce there is insufficient evidence and nolle prosse the charges. Not true. Just as the police are under pressure to make an arrest, now the prosecutor is under pressure to get a conviction. And, despite ethical rules and the higher standard that an attorney should be held to, some prosecutors will use the coerced testimony and sometimes they will participate in obtaining more coerced testimony by threatening witnesses with prosecution or promising them freedom.
We expect that if a case is made solely with coerced or bought testimony, and/or there is insufficient evidence to prove more than a mere suspicion, and the police and prosecutor insist on putting a person on trial anyway, that the Court will do it’s duty and put a stop to it. Sometimes they do, but often they do not. When the Court does not, the only thing remaining to prevent wrongful convictions is the defense lawyer and a jury of 12 people.

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