Monday, May 4, 2015

Altering evidence? Or preserving pieces of a crime scene? That is the question

A civil court jury in Cook County found it within itself to clear the county sheriff’s police of wrongdoing in the way it handled the body of a 20-year-old woman who was killed five years ago in a car crash in the forest preserves near suburban Oak Forest.

That ruling in Cook County Circuit Court came on Friday, and I’m going to have to respect the judgment because I wasn’t there during the civil trial to hear every bit of evidence for myself.

BUT I HAVE to admit that reading the reports that came from the trial make me wonder about the logic of what was repeatedly called police “protocol” to justify the way the cops handled the scene.

This particular lawsuit wound up getting coverage because the woman killed in the auto accident wound up being stripped partially naked when photographers taking pictures of the scene as possible evidence in future criminal proceedings.

The girl’s mother seems to feel her daughter was violated by such acts, particularly since the fact wound up spurring rumors that the girl was somehow naked and having sex at the time of the car crash.

As it turned out, the driver of the vehicle tried claiming the girl was straddling him at the time – claiming that was what caused him to lose control of the vehicle.

BUT INVESTIGATORS WERE able to show that it was impossible for any such act to have occurred. Meaning the driver, himself, was to blame for losing control of the vehicle. He wound up being found guilty of criminal charges and is now serving a prison sentence. The photographs that were the focus of this lawsuit were supposedly key evidence in gaining his conviction.

Sheriff’s police claimed during the trial that their investigators were merely following the standard procedure for gathering up a crime scene (which is what the accident site near 147th Street and Oak Park Avenue had become). Since crime scenes are never pretty and often garish, it is only inevitable that the evidence would be less than proper.

I don’t doubt that those crime scene photographers wind up seeing grotesque images that would wind up bothering the sensibilities of the deceased’s relatives.

But I never did read anyone explaining just why some of the photographs of the accident scene wound up showing the girl fully-clothed, and others showed her body moved to a tarp placed on the open ground where she was then stripped partially nude.

MY GUT REACTION is to wonder why this wasn’t construed as tampering with a crime scene – somehow altering the reality of what was there. No clear explanation was ever provided that I am aware of, and now I doubt that one ever will.

Not that it seemed to bother the jury that spent a good chunk of the day on Friday resolving the testimony they heard during all of last week. They seem to want to believe the police behaved professionally. Then again, some people will always argue on behalf of the police, no matter how extreme the evidence against them seems to be.

That is the verdict reached by a jury of peers, and it is what will remain as the outcome of this case – unless someone wants to try taking this to the Illinois appeals court and can come up with a specific bit of evidence that was wrongly excluded during the lawsuit’s trial.

After all, merely not liking a jury’s verdict is insufficient reason to justify granting an appeal.

PERHAPS THE MOTHER realizes that, since I read in newspaper accounts during the weekend that she is pleased she was able to publicly say her daughter wasn’t having sex or being naked or doing anything else that might be considered sordid at the time of her death.

For her sake, I hope she is capable of getting on with her life – which for the past five years and for the remainder of it will be without her daughter.

No amount of money that she might have received from Cook County as a financial reward from her lawsuit would have brought her daughter back.


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