Saturday, August 20, 2011

Peter Jackson EVISCERATES Corrupt Arkansas Justice System

Yesterday, the state of Arkansas accepted an "Alford Plea" and freed the West Memphis Three after 18 years of what is widely held to be false imprisonment. And while it's great news for the three men - one of whom was facing death row and in frail health - it's most-definitely NOT any kind of justice. The conditions of the plea shield the state from being held to account for their grotesque handling tof the ordeal, allowing the prosecution to escape reprecussions for one of the most public acts of legal malfeasance in modern American history.

Director/producer Peter Jackson, who was revealed yesterday to be a big wheel in the money/coordination efforts to get the case re-examined, has posted a detailed summation of his thoughts on the affair, which amount to a BRUTAL yet wholly-appropriate dressing-down of the entire Arkansas legal system. You should read the whole thing, it's DAMN good stuff, but here's my favorite passage:

"It goes on and on ... any serious detailed look into the facts and science of this case quickly reveals what an appalling miscarriage of justice it is. Any vaguely intelligent person would come to the same conclusion, if they take the time - except for Mr Ellington and his justice league. But then, to be fair, Mr Ellington has a job to do, and a good reason to protect his State from admitting any fault. 42 million good reasons in fact. The most telling thing Mr Arkansas Justice Mouth-piece said this morning was that a guy who proved he was wrongfully convicted in another State, was awarded compensation of $14 million.

Follow the money."

Folks, when people say that "liberal Hollywood" and "Middle America" are "at war"... HELL YES they are, and THIS kind of shit is both the WHY and the HOW - as in HOW you know who the good guys tend to be. These three innocent men rotted in jail unjustly for almost two decades almost-entirely due to their being "different" in a conservative, religious, rural community. They are free today because filmmakers, documentarians, musicians and other assorted activists both well-known and unknown saw a wrong - and, in many cases, felt kinship with the put-upon "different" in our society - and shoved the case into the spotlight until this small sliver of right was done.

From here on out, any putrid pundit who starts blowing his/her trumpet about how wrong it is for "Hollywood" to be trying to change values and influence people in "REAL America" deserves to have this case shoved right back in their faces. Hard.


Katheren said...

all I can say to this is FUCK ARKANSAS, and I now have even more respect for Peter Jackson, which I didn't think was possible

Mads said...

Hold on.

It looks like there may still be a way to fight the Arkansas system on this...:

White wrote that courts must accept whatever plea a defendant chooses to enter, as long as the defendant is competently represented by counsel; the plea is intelligently chosen; and “the record before the judge contains strong evidence of actual guilt.”[2] Faced with “grim alternatives,” the defendant's best choice of action may be to plead guilty to the crime, White wrote, and the courts must accept the defendant's choice made in his own interests.[2]

This is from wikipedia on the plea made in the original Alford case.

The record before the judge, should they choose to pursue compensation, would not show strong evidence of actual guilt. As such, even though the plea bargain can be held valid, a trial to determine compensation may choose to disregard the plea.

It's a long shot, and it would effectively kill the alford plea for this kind of monkeying around, but considering the duress one of the convicts was under, it could work.

Maybe Peter Jacksons writ is hinting at just such an attempt. If 42 million bucks are on the line, I could imagine an activist law firm taking this on for a share of the payout.

Well, you can always hope.

David (The Pants) said...

Fuck yeah! Mad Props to Jackson and everyone who is saying how BS this case is like this!

Anonymous said...

The guy who originally refused could later say that he was effectively coerced (his initial refusal supports this) because without his acceptance of the plea his friend who was in poor health might likely have died in prison before a retrial. Essentially they held his friends life hostage to gain his acceptance of the plea.

Dav3 said...

Okay, I've been holding back the last few days, but now I have to say this.

If it's possible to ignore the details of the court case for a moment, what you have is a foreign citizen essentially bullying a state court into freeing convicted criminals.

Doesn't that bother anyone a little, or do the ends simply justify the means?

Even if they do, I can't be happy about Peter Jackson telling Arkansas how to run things. (Even though it appears that SOMEBODY had to)

Sylocat said...


If it's possible to ignore the details of the court case for a moment, what you have is a foreign citizen essentially bullying a state court into freeing convicted criminals.

"Ignore the details of the court case?" Like the fact that their convictions were FALSE? Is that a "detail" that should be ignored?

Perhaps what you should be upset about instead is the fact that a foreign citizen NEEDED to "bully" them into releasing innocent people.

Steven said...

I'll just leave this here.

Mister Linton said...

"HOW you know who the good guys tend to be. "

Bob, your soft liberal prejudice is showing again.

Sam Robards, Occasional Gamer said...

I'm glad that these convictions were overturned and I wish it hadn't taken as long as it did.

That being said, I think Bob's overinflating the relevance of Hollywood in this instance. Or rather, he's placing the emphasis on the wrong aspects of the case.

Bob seems to be saying that the people that (correctly) brought this issue to light are inherently superior (or at least more noble) than everyone else based on the fact that they're filmmakers:

Folks, when people say that 'liberal Hollywood' and 'Middle America' are 'at war'... HELL YES they are, and THIS kind of shit is both the WHY and the HOW - as in HOW you know who the good guys tend to be.

Remember Robert Blake killing his wife or Roman Polanski drugging and raping 13-year olds? Just because you make movies for a living doesn't make you the Second Coming.

What really happened here is that a group of good people who HAPPEN TO BE filmmakers stood up to right a wrong. There are HUGE differences in those two ideas.

Also, these kind of unfortunate cases where justice isn't done happen in EVERY STATE and in EVERY COUNTRY. Trying to label Arkansas as the sole provider of wrongful convictions and legal miscarriages is intellectually jaundiced at best and discriminatory at worst.

Remember that the California legal system said that O.J. Simpson was INNOCENT? How's that for a miscarriage of justice?

Adam said...

@Sam Robards

See also Casey Anthony. Sometimes Hollywood is ahead of the curve. Sometimes they are not. I will continue to consider what I see and decide for myself, thanks.

Lee Kalba said...

Try living here, in a small town no less, as a socially liberal atheist.
I remember watching the documentary about this on HBO and thinking it could have been me, in that kind of situation.
Columbine got me in trouble too.
It's the rural south, expectations start low...

Lee Kalba said...

I also want to add, Arkansas is not the only state guilty of this kind of shit. There was an episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit! that covered a man in a death penalty case, accused of a murder committed while he was already in jail on a lesser offense.
The real world ain't like Law and Order.
Then there's that shit with Amanda Knox, in Italy.
Also, holy fuck, it's been 18 years...

Chris Cesarano said...

Folks, when people say that "liberal Hollywood" and "Middle America" are "at war"... HELL YES they are, and THIS kind of shit is both the WHY and the HOW - as in HOW you know who the good guys tend to be. These three innocent men rotted in jail unjustly for almost two decades almost-entirely due to their being "different" in a conservative, religious, rural community. They are free today because filmmakers, documentarians, musicians and other assorted activists both well-known and unknown saw a wrong - and, in many cases, felt kinship with the put-upon "different" in our society - and shoved the case into the spotlight until this small sliver of right was done.

In the interest of a counter-argument...

Adam said...

Also Bob I fail to see how Mr. Jackson even falls into a "Liberal Hollywood" vs. "Small-Town Conservative" bent on this anyways. ANY true blooded American should be appalled at this whole case because our justice system is supposed to be one of the cornerstones that should make this country great, and such a grave mishandling is a terrible affront of words the founding fathers set.

Mads said...

@ Atomic Skull

The problem with that line of defense would be that the judges would have to admit that there is substantial mistreatment of prisoners on death row. That's very hard to pull off.

@ Dav3

Why does it matter that he's foreign again? Could you go over that part?
Since it happened in Arkansas, should only arkansanieeaanaenas (clearly I don't know the correct plural form) be the ones to speak out?
Or are you saying that somehow the rest of the US is different from new zealand in a matter like this in a fashion that's relevant? You _are_ banded together under a whole bunch of international treaties, and US constitution is essentially a federal treaty so...yeah, could you point out the distinction a bit more specifically?

@ Sylocat
He's not saying to ignore the matters of the case, he's saying to do that for arguments sake because there's something he would like to explore through discussion. That's kindof a big distinction.

@ Adam
This whole thing came about as a result of documentaries. Is it so inappropriate to look at what documentaries and activists within hollywood meant for this case?

Casting this as another part of the war between hollywood and middle america...well, arkansas is middle america, they botched this up pretty bad...documentary and jackson are hollywood creatures...

Seems pretty logical to me?

Adam said...


I read all of Peter Jackson's post. I can't disagree with anything he said, and nowhere did I get the impression that he was calling out conservatives or religious people or middle-America even. All I saw was him tearing the Arkansas justice system a new one. It rightly deserved it, and as other commentators have pointed out, broken justice happens in every state. This is just the most egregious example in recent memory. I haven't seen documentaries for this case and don't doubt that somewhere you could find a perspective that could be termed "liberal" but as I said ANY American should be outraged out how this case was handled. That's all I saw Peter Jackson doing, so for Bob to point it as being a pin in the "Hollywood's after conservative/religious people" seems a bit overwrought to me.

Dav3 said...

I"m just saying it bothers me to have anyone from any other country criticizing my government, no matter how accurate that criticism may be.

I feel, on a philosophical level, that nobody has a right, nor a responsiblity, to fix other people's problems, especially someone looking in from the outside. In other words, I think people should mind their own business.

On a practical level, however, I'm well aware that active intervention is frequently required to prevent evil from succeeding.

Lee Kalba said...

Arkansans, with stress on the Kansans, part, which as always bugged me.

Mads said...

You'll sometimes hear that middle america and hollywood are at war. If that's the case, then this was legitimately a battle from that war.
Even peter jackson involvement comes from a documentary, so the filmmakers legitimately changed things. The way I see it, that's the reason it's called a war in the first place: There's a (I don't know how fringe) feel that hollywood should stick to making movies and stay out of social commentary. This is a point against that line of thought. Calling it a war is probably the invention of some news corporation somewhere.

Thanks! Arkansans. Yeah sounds about right.

Ok, so it's essentially the same argument I had with Sam in this thread:

I want to say that I'm sympathetic, and get why you feel the way you do, but I can't say I would ever subscribe to that line of thought...especially if it means you're less likely to listen to reasonable arguments just because they're foreigners, and they're talking about the US.

But I do think the concrete case should give you food for thought.

This time around, foreigners have no vested interest, other than to see justice done.

But that alone seems to have been an absolute good? I'm not sure how you can legitimately hold that foreigners should always butt out on a philosophical level when that philosophy may well have had this wrongful incarceration continue? Shouldn't there be some big, obvious exemptions in that philosophy? Like for instance, foreigners can criticise the US when they're right and it has tangible benefits ?

Dav3 said...

Yes it's a similar area. I briefly considered that same ugly dog argument.

You are also right to say that what has been done is unquestionably a good thing. There is no way I could argue that three men convicted on inadequate evidence should still be in jail, solely because it was a foreigner who thought they should be free. That would put me in line with the backwards-thinking prosecutors responsible for this whole mess.

Good is good, no matter who is responsible for it. I even think that bad can be good under specific circumstances.

What bothers me isn't the act of Jackson speaking out for justice, but the amount of self-rightousness it takes to step in and tell a foreign government how to run things.

Philosopical differences are one thing, but actually getting involved in the legal process of another country crosses a line with me.

I am all for discussion. I believe wisdom requires an open mind, weighing alternatives, and considering all sides, and so on. However, Jackson was out of bounds when he started lecturing the State of Arkansas about the proper treatment of criminal suspects. (which is why I didn't join the discussion before this post)

The best word for it is disrespectful. I think Jackson's rant showed tremendous disrespect to the State of Arkansas, and the US in whole. That's what bugs me.

Mads said...

Do you think something deserves respect when it's clearly doing something horribly wrong? Isn't that grounds for disrespect?

He put the responsibility squarely on the attorney general of arkansas, and he clearly helped fix something that was fucked up.

So are you saying, those two actions, which seem perfectly reasonable to me, are by themselves disrespectful?

Or is it the implications of the actions - that things are so bad somewhere in the US that he thinks it needs the charity of foreigners to set straight, with all the underlying disgust of the current state of affairs that comes with it.

Look, you tried to shore up the argument with philosophy...well, I'd call it an ideological belief, but to each his own...and I tried to argue, hey if there's a big counterexample for the philosophy right here, shouldn't you adapt it such that the counterexample no longer stands in the way of following the philosophy?

I liked this line of reasoning. There was a nice hypothetical imperative that dictated people behave a certain way. There was a counterexample I could use to say, hey, maybe that hypothetical imperative isn't fully thought out. Some of it is reasonable, some of it? probably isn't.

I don't think arguing on the merits of respect, which is an honor code, really changes the situation fundamentally. I think it's the same basic idea you're putting forward, it's just slightly more complicated:

Here's the fundamental hypothetical imperative this time around, if I had to write it:

- People shouldn't disrespect the US. We do a lot of good in the world, and we deserve to be recognized for that. Badmouthing the US seems to be wholly ignorant of the prosperity US hegemony has brought to the world. It's ungrateful, it shouldn't sit right with anyone, and it shouldn't be done.

And here's a corollary
- If foreigners actively try to manipulate the internal machinations of (a part of) the US, with donations and activism, it sends the signal that they thing the US can't handle it. Ranting about it on the internet afterwards sends the signal that (part of) the US is morally bankrupt. This is disrespectful to the whole country.

Both parts are fundamentally sound...I tried to write them so they match my understanding of honor and respect as best I could.
Here's the thing; the first imperative is too broad. Taken together, these two would have Peter Jackson do nothing in this case, or he would be disrespectful.

I can only say, maybe you should consider adapting your honorcode such that someone showing this kind of disrespect is considered in the right if he has a really good reason for it.

Fundamentally, Peter Jackson has improved the US from what it used to be, by helping to right a grievous wrong. You can begrudge him the fact that he did it while not being an american, but I don't really think you can say anything bad about what he did without also saying he (maybe) shouldn't have done it. And that's just wrong. It's a really good thing he did it.

Also, maybe you are really just bugged by his tirade. Well he pointed out a specific boogieman - shouldn't that (mostly) exonerate the rest of the US? Wasn't the criticism more broad before he weighed in, because of the implications that he have now cleared up?

Dav3 said...

I can only say, maybe you should consider adapting your honorcode such that someone showing this kind of disrespect is considered in the right if he has a really good reason for it

Good reasoning, but I don't think there is ever a good reason to berate someone, especially in public. That kind of lecturing only leads to deeper division between the two sides. If you want things to improve you have to cooperate, not fight. I consider Jackson's statements to be beligerant, and I have to imagine the Arkansas court feels the same way.

Maybe I can explain my position better if I break down the timeline of this case.

A crime occurs
- obviously that's wrong.

3 men are accused primarily because they don't "fit in" in the community
- also wrong.

They are convicted not because there is sufficient evidence, but because people simply believe they're guilty.
- that's very wrong.

Other people get involved because they see the injustice going on.
- This is right. One of the most cherished American ideals is speaking out, A: whenever you see injustice, and B: when somebody can't defend themselves. Both apply in this case.

Peter Jackson contributes time and money to seeing justice done. - Good for him. I applaud anyone who sacrifices something to help someone else. There is nothing wrong with Jackson wanting to see justice restored.

The 3 accused men are set free - finally the court does something right.

Jackson writes a speech berating the Arkansas courts for their mistreatment of the accused. - This is where I have a problem.

Say you buy something, a shoe/whatever. The salesperson tells you it costs $1 million because it will never break. You buy the shoe and it breaks the first time you put it on. Obviously, the salesperson was lying. Your friend hears about this and goes to the store to complain on your behalf. The manager gives you your money back.

Now, what good does it do for your friend to put up a billboard telling everybody that the salesperson is a lying cheat, he's never seen someone do something so wrong. That would never happen in any other store. That salesperson shouldn't be allowed to sell things anymore, and so on.

All it does is make an enemy out of the person who did wrong. Now that person is going to have a grudge against your friend. You or your friend may go into a appliance store where a friend of the salesperson works, and now they're going to be harder to deal with. So you go and tell everyone that the appliance salesman is terrible, and now you have another enemy. It's a continuing cycle that only makes things worse for everyone.

I agree that "Hollywood" and "Middle America" are at war, but it's because neither side has the integrity to admit they're wrong.

Logically speaking, if one side is wrong, that doesn't automatically make the other side right. Very often in life, BOTH sides are wrong. It's only when people accept this and work together that things come out right.

Mads said...

Do I agree, fundamentally, that reasoning it out with someone is a preferable course of action? I do. But it's not always possible, because it takes two willing parties to reason.

Here's the thing. I don't think your analogy captures just what went on.

You start out by saying, you don't think there's ever a good reason for berating someone, especially in public. You say, well then, berating the shoe salesmen after he paid you back, that's wrong-

Berating him in public, in that situation, doing those things...yeah, that's not really a good reason for berating him in public. You solved it, you worked it out, and he probably didn't mean to try to cheat you. You don't really need to put up those banners.

Ok. But you started out in the general tense. In fact, what you started out saying was, it wouldn't be ok to berate him in public even if he _didn't_ pay you bay.

Would it be ok to berate him if he was only willing to pay you 200k, you have cancer, and getting the full million through the courts probably won't happen till you're dead? He's using the fact that you have cancer to weasel out of compensating you.

Are you sure you can't berate him in public for that?

Because the Arkansas DA in this case used the fact that one of these guys was on death row to say to the other two, well, you're going to have to forsake your rightful monetary claims if you want me to stop trying to kill I think that makes the analogy more accurate.

Anyway. So Are you saying, it's not alright to berate the shoe salesman in public nomatter how much of a scumbag he is?

What if berating him in public could do some good, like for example, drive shoppers to his competition who _aren't_ scumbags? Doesn't berating him in public serve a good purpose, in that case?

Isn't it a _good_, because it sets the example that you can't be a scumbag and get away with it?

Look, I agree, things aren't always black and white. Several wrong things may occur on both sides sometimes. This is just not one of those times, I think. The state of arkansas should be forced to pay a monumental fee for this. In fact, I would be quite satisfied if their tax rate went up a sliver on account of choosing a lousy DA.

The stunt this DA pulled absolves the state of Arkansas of it's wrongdoing, and it shouldn't be. The public of Arkansas should be aware that choosing a bad DA is a costly affair, just as choosing a bad governor can be. Jacksons rant may not be the justice these 3 men deserve, but on the whole, I'm pretty sure Arkansas would rather take a rant than pay out the 40(?) million dollars that would be the _just_ punishment for their wrongdoing.