CBS News has this attention-getting headline:
It certainly got my attention.
Before you go on, ask yourself: what does that headline suggest really happened? Formulate a specific answer in your mind, and then read on.
I clicked on the story (which is what they wanted, of course). Here is how it begins:
A 74-year-old woman was released from prison late Monday evening after serving 32 years for a murder committed by her abusive boyfriend.
Mary Virginia Jones walked out of Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood just before midnight to the tears and cheers of family and friends, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Jones was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery in a 1981 shooting death, but Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Ryan set aside those convictions on Monday, reports CBS Los Angeles.
The district attorney’s office has agreed to accept a plea of no contest to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for Jones’ release. Jones has already served 11,875 days, which exceeds the 11-year maximum sentence for voluntary manslaughter.
So . . . it doesn’t quite sound like what the headline implies, which is: defendant accused of being murderer, prosecutors find out someone else did it and let her go, ergo, she was totally railroaded. It sounds like something else. To find out, you must read all the way to the end of the article. When I did, here’s what I learned. The woman apparently didn’t get a “Battered Women’s Syndrome” instruction, and some USC law students and their activist advisors argued she should have:
Law students at USC’s Post-Conviction Project argued Jones would not have been convicted if the jury had heard testimony on the effects of intimate partner battery, previously known as “Battered Women’s Syndrome.”
Again, that’s the last paragraph of the article.
Apparently the woman does not deny that she was the driver in a kidnapping in which her boyfriend had her drive himself and two drug dealers to an alley, where the boyfriend then shot the drug dealers to death. She just claims she was forced to do it.
So here’s what I now understand, based on reviewing the entire article. Activists say she should have gotten a Battered Women’s Syndrome instruction (despite the general rule that duress is not a defense to murder). A Superior Court Judge agreed and reversed her conviction and set it for a new trial. The D.A., rather than retry a 33-year-old murder case against the driver, decided to offer her a manslaughter offer, evidently (I’m guessing) deciding that was appropriate given the substantial amount of time she had already served for her conduct, together with the fact that the case would likely be difficult to retry after such a long time.
Not quite a case of “OMIGOD TOTALLY INNOCENT WOMAN WAS RAILROADED!!!!!1!!!!1!!” as the headline suggests.
Most people, of course, will just read the headline, and will come away with a totally skewed idea of what happened. This, in turn, will make them more cynical about the system.
The headline writers should be ashamed of themselves. But I bet they aren’t. I bet they are proud — because of all the clicks they got on the story.
ALL HAIL PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISM!
DISCLAIMER: As always, I comment on this story in my private capacity and not in my public capacity, and I do not speak on behalf of the office. I have no inside knowledge of this case whatsoever and am opining purely based on public reports.