Prosecutor’s Nightmare

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I am often asked in e-mails from viewers how we find or select our segment or story topics. There is no particular way, except that we try and track the news or bring you segments of interest. In Wednesday night's show, besides discussing the emergency court hearing in Aruba (search), we discussed the strong storm (hurricane?) that is expected to slam Florida later on Thursday.

We also did three other missing persons segments — two young lawyers in Michigan, an American student in Japan and a woman in Alabama. Why those three? It is simple. Yesterday I received e-mails from family members or friends of the missing asking us to do it and my senior producer said, "OK." It is that simple. We can't do every segment we get an e-mail about — but it is hard to pass up requests from families who are desperate. As you might imagine the e-mails have a powerful effect on us — it is hard not to want to help someone in great distress.

Families know the power of the media — we put up the missing person's picture for people around the world to see and maybe someone will call in a tip. Law enforcement agencies can feel extra encouragement to work extra hard if the missing person is in the news. And, frankly, from talking to these families we learn that even a little attention makes them know that others give a damn — and that can have some level of comfort.

Of course we can't do every segment a viewer asks and we have to do other news as it happens. For instance, if the storm headed to Florida later today is a terrible one causing great danger and damage, we will probably do the entire hour on that storm tonight. If "Katrina" (search) decides to make a turn out to sea or just slow down and spare us, we will regroup and do little or nothing about the storm. That is how programming is done.

Because of the lack of information from the police or prosecutor in Aruba, there are many "stories" running around masquerading as facts. The safest way to address the "facts" is to assign the author rather than vouch for them myself. One of the conflicting facts is how many statements and/or stories Joran van der Sloot (search) has made.

Joran van der Sloot's lawyer says Joran has made 23 statements, but only three different stories are contained within the 23 statements. The three separate stories were made early on and then, apparently, per the lawyer, Joran has repeated that third story 20 more times in written declarations.

I don't know if it much matters whether there are three different stories with 20 consistent statements to the third story or if there are 23 different statements/stories. Once you have two materially different statements, you have a liar on your hands.

But a lie is not enough to prove a crime occurred and that the person who lied committed it. You need proof of a crime — here that someone actually died and that it was at the hands of another (murder.) A lie proves you have a liar on your hands — and of course legitimately raises high suspicion — but is not enough to convict of a crime of murder. This is why this prosecutor faces a big challenge in this investigation. If she believes a murder has been committed, she must prove the actual murder (not a disappearance alone) and who did it.

The fact that Natalee Holloway has not returned and the fact she left behind a passport and was looking forward to college persuades me that she is dead, but this is not "legal evidence" of murder. People take off — e.g. the Runaway Bride. People also have accidents (drown.) I don't think Natalee took off, but there is no legal evidence to the contrary. I don't think her death was accidental — but I have no evidence other than my personal speculation. I assume Natalee is dead and assume it was foul play —- but my assumption is my speculation. Speculation is not evidence. Convictions require evidence. When looking at any investigation, you have to step back and think, “Am I guessing this?” Guessing is speculation — not evidence. Can I point to specific facts that actually prove this?

Note however, that when you have sufficient pieces of evidence pointing in one direction (circumstantial evidence), it can rise to the level of proof needed for a conviction. You don't need eyewitnesses to prove something. For instance, if a huge pool of Natalee's blood were found someplace but not her body, that blood would not be speculation of death or foul play but rather circumstantial (and convincing in my mind) evidence of death and foul play. People don't bleed profusely, survive and take off. Huge amounts of blood means death — you need blood.

Criminal investigations are not about who do you like... or who do you not like... or what it might seem like to you... or what you guess... or what you assume... or what you speculate, etc. They are about legal evidence — proof. When a prosecutor enters the courtroom for a trial, he or she needs old fashion evidence that a crime has been committed and that the accused did it to avoid getting the wrong verdict — whether that wrong verdict be guilty or not guilty.

We have seen the imperfection of the legal system (e.g. DNA (search) evidence exonerating some on death row) so the law requires legal proof — not our instincts, speculations or our assumptions but evidence. Yes, mistakes are made — sometimes the innocent are convicted and the guilty found not guilty. That is why we have to be extremely cautious, smart, analytical and strong. Yes, strong — we can't cave to the popular verdict but the legally correct one. Let's hope that due diligence results in those who have committed murders get caught and rightfully convicted.

Now for some e-mails:

E-mail No. 1

Hi Greta,
Just a silly, trivial question — but I'm curious. How come all the photos on your blog had your initials on them — GVS — and now they have FOX News’ — FNC — initials on them?
We don't miss a trick... Keep up the great work!
Noell Tandy
Bryn Mawr, PA
P.S. I don't want to see the BTK's gruesome pix either — but I think you SHOULD show them — and all other news — I just change the channel if there is something I don't want to see. How easy is that?

ANSWER: Great question and great eye! The reason is because often I don't take the pictures — for example the ones I am in. When we are "on the road" I carry my pocket digital camera and from time to time hand it to a colleague to shoot away. We pass my camera around like a hot potato — and because we take so many pics (digital pics are free), it is hard to figure out who shot what. I take 99 percent of them — but not all of them. I don't want to take credit for a picture that my producer might have taken... so I figured it would be better just to write, "FNC."

E-mail No. 2 — OK... this next e-mail has me totally perplexed. Can one of you please explain it to me? Have I, or any of my guests, EVER advocated violence in any place? Can you think of anything more absurd than me advocating smashing a glass in someone's face? Or an indecent assault? OK, am I missing something?

You had interviewed someone with issues, I suppose, and did not get the story right! My son saw the show, he thought your show said "anything goes in international waters" and they have problems prosecuting crimes at sea! My son busted up the man from India that assaulted his sister! The guy had a glass smashed against his face because my son, Bryan, was convinced by your show that nothing would happen!
The FBI interviewed my kids for two hours and they would have prosecuted the man if we wanted to go to Miami. This indecent happened on the way to Cozumel, Mexico, in international waters.
I watch your shows all the time and believed you to be Fair and Balanced! I'm not trusting you anymore! Why did you not get a qualified expert to explain what happens with crimes at sea?
The maritime law attorney for the cruise line industry we spoke to is articulate and knowledgeable and you should put him in your Rolodex for the truth on what happens to sea crimes.
Darren W. Friedman
Miami, FL

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