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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Cold Case Murder Trials

Convicted murderer
Matthew Jones
When murder cases grow cold, they erode our confidence in the criminal justice system. The implication is that someone, somewhere has gotten away with murder; something that we do not want to ever happen, happens again and again.

Prosecutors and law enforcement of every stripe have cold murder units that are staffed and funded in a variety of ways. Prosecuting a cold murder case is one of the more difficult tasks a prosecuting attorney is called to perform. Getting a conviction in such cases is never a "slam dunk".

Just ask the Manhattan district attorney's office in the Etan Patz case. Last Friday, after 18-days of deliberations book-ending months of trial, the jury reported to Justice Maxwell Wiley of the New York Supreme Court [Gotham's trial court] that they were deadlocked.

Etan Patz disappeared in Manhattan in 1979; the murder trial did not feature a dead body because the boy was never found. A former store clerk, Pedro Hernandez, was charged with Etan's murder based on a confession his lawyers say was coerced by police.

Jurors in the Patz case deadlocked due to a lone hold-out who refused to give-up his firm conviction that the confession was not genuine. Because all other 11 jurors were clamoring for a conviction, a second trial will likely result.

Closer to home, over roughly the same period, the Michigan Attorney General successfully prosecuted brothers Matthew and Paul Jones for the 1989 murder of Shannon Siders. Toward the end of April, the Jones brothers were tried by separate juries in Newago County who deliberated for less than an hour to reach their first of two murder convictions following the 15-day trial.

In the Siders murder case, prosecutors had to overcome the inability of local law enforcement to build a contemporaneous case that could stick against the Jones brothers. Their convictions rested, in part, on the eyewitness testimony of a convict that claims he saw the Jones brothers in July 1989 on a remote two-track with the body of a young woman alongside their vehicle.

The witness, sporting an MDOC orange jumpsuit at trial, testified that he did not immediately report what he saw because he was on probation, driving drunk, with a 14-year old girl in his front seat. Jones' convictions, however, were also based on their own statements made to a family member over the years.

No doubt, there will be an appeal in the Jones' cases and, in the Patz case, New Yorkers get to live through a whole new trial. We here at the Law Blogger believe that it is a price worth paying to wrap-up these cold cases.

As Michigan Attorney General stated in a press conference announcing the Jones' convictions, justice for Shannon Siders, although delayed, was not denied.

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