Rush to judgment can’t compensate for tragic death

On Aug. 15, 2010, the life of Rian Orr was cut entirely too short when she died after just four months on this earth.

It’s understandable to be outraged by the news the promise of infancy disappeared after its potential had barely begun to be realized. And, it’s also easy to direct that anger at the man who is now charged with murdering that girl.

However, we cannot do this. Not if we are a community that desires true justice.

Rushes to judgment have tarnished the lives of entirely too many people, after waves of seemingly insurmountable evidence crashed out of the mouths and writings of police, prosecutors and the media.

These swells, though, are broken on occasion by beachheads built on considered action and close examination.

In recent memory, we need only to look to lacrosse players at Duke University or Richard Ricci for evidence that men (and women) can be wrongly accused of awful acts.

The defendants in the former case lost a season and school time, minor punishments when compared to what Ricci endured.

As TV star Nancy Grace — among others — wrongly but strongly proclaimed Ricci guilty of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart, he was arrested and held in prison on a minor parole violation. Before his name was eventually cleared in the kidnapping, he died in prison.

Of course, most police officers and prosecutors don’t engage in the kind of egregious misconduct those in the aforementioned instances did. They act based on genuine beliefs of suspicion and guilt, and base those opinions on the facts in front of them and on how those facts reveal a criminal case under the law. We believe the arrest and pending prosecution of David Paul to be the product of a good-faith and reasonable interpretation of the evidence and the law, while at the same time remaining mindful that even those who act with the best of intentions and sincere beliefs can be mistaken. The judicial process, while imperfect, remains the best way to determine whether Paul is guilty or not guilty, not a rush to judgment based on (so far) one side’s take on the events surrounding Orr’s tragic death.

There will be some that read this and dismiss it as support for criminals that pours from a bleeding heart. We can’t stop that, but we can ask this: what if a mistake has been made?

If that has happened, then a rush to judgment to convict Paul would not have simply permanently scarred and punished and innocent man, but would also allow the guilty party or parties to go free.

The less certain a convicted person’s true guilt is, the further those who loved Rian Orr and the community as a whole will be from closure. We’d rather a slow, deliberate process get it right than a quick and dirty exercise miss its mark, leaving lingering doubt and incomplete closure.

The community of Juneau felt sick to its stomach when learning of the circumstances of Rian Orr’s death last year, and it’s natural to want to ease that queasiness by learning why such a tragic event took place.

As much as we want quick comfort for our pain, and the pain suffered by those who loved Rian, any soothing that would come from come from a snap judgment would be fleeting, and would not close the wound her death opened. This one, we must get right.

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