Criminal Law Issues
Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer
This law documentary tells the tale of Aileen Carol Wuornos who was a highway prostitute who was accused of being a serial killer and executed in 2002. She was accused of killing six men in Florida from December 1989 to September 1990. The bodies of the men were found strewn along the highways in north and central Florida highways. The killer had taken personal possessions and pawned them at a local pawn shop. This items and the aliases used for the sale enabled the police to nab one of America’s most notorious female serial killers. Aileen later confessed to killing the men claiming that it was self- defense after some of the men had tried to sexually assault her. An analysis of the film raises several criminal law issues from the investigations, prosecution, sentencing and execution of Aileen (Dolores and Nolin, 2014). Below are ten criminal law issues that emerge from this law documentary:
- Mental state: The legal documentary has focused most of its time in examining the mental state of Aileen as a root problem of her serial killing spree. As is the case with many serial killer cases, Aileen was taken for a psychiatrist evaluation to determine her mental state. The findings of the team tasked with evaluating Aileen’s mental state reached a consensus that Aileen was mentally unstable and thus was not fit to stand in a court of law as a sane person. The same team diagnosed Aileen with borderline personality disorder and anti-social personality disorder. Many states require that a person who is mentally unstable to stand a trial to be institutionalized until a time when they are fit to stand trial. In Aileen’s case her mental state and psychopathy were not phony since her mental state and psychopathic tendencies can be traced back to her childhood. The woman suffered an abusive childhood, started engaging in sex at 11, got pregnant supposedly by her maternal grandfather at 14. The mental state of Aileen should not exonerate her from her actions, but it was important for the court to consider her unstable mental state since her mental state could have reduced her capacity to understand the criminality of her actions. Despite the unstable mental state reports from state psychologists, Aileen was sentenced to death 4 days later after tabling of the report.
- Law enforcement authorities’ exploitation: The law enforcement authorities investigating Aileen’s case used undue processes to obtain a confession statement from Aileen. Aileen had a strong romantic relationship with another woman; Moore. Moore was the closest to family that Aileen had. The law enforcement authorities took advantage of this declaring that Moore was going to be prosecuted alongside Aileen as an accomplice to her crimes. In order to protect her lover, Aileen confessed in the video to the killing of the men, making it easy for her interrogators to obtain a guilty statement through coercion since her spouse would be charged if she did not cooperate (Dolores and Nolin, 2014).
- Prosecution exploitation: The prosecution did not consider the conditions under which Aileen made her confessions to the murder and robbery with violence charges. It is clear that prosecutors were informed and took part in the exploitative interrogations and used this video confessions in court to prosecute her.
- Pre-trial publicity: The pre-trial publicity of Aileen’s murder case is another criminal case issue that arises from the court case. The law enforcement authorities used exploitative interrogation tactics to obtain a confession from Aileen. In order to protect her lover, Aileen confessed on camera in a video where she was well composed and confident as she accepted that she had killed the six men. This video was then leaked to the public causing a public uproar and indirectly affecting the trial. As a result the judge was under pressure to maintain the law and at the same time calm the public outrage thus causing a flawed trial.
- Inadmissible past conviction: The Williams Rule in Florida allowed the prosecution to lay bare Aileen’s past criminal behavior to show her pattern of being a hardcore criminal. This is against the law that states previous convictions are inadmissible in criminal trials, a law that was ignored in Aileen’s trial (Dolores and Nolin, 2014).
- Judge prejudice: the judge in Aileen’s case was clearly prejudiced before the start of the criminal trial. As a judge it is critical to consider the mental state of the defendant. The judge ignored the unstable mental state that was tabled by state authorized psychiatrist and thus contributed to the unfair trial.
- Flawed testimonies: In her various confessions of the account of her actions, Aileen’s statements were never consistent at any one time. At one time she confessed that she killed the men in self -defense and when the life of her spouse was threatened by the prosecution, she gave a different version. This video confessions were used in the trial and the large inconsistencies on the confessions should have made the prosecution to dismiss these evidence as unfit to be tabled in court and rather reliance on actionable evidence used.
- Bogus expert testimonies: In Aileen’s murder of Mallory, she had claimed that the victim had raped her and she killed her for self-defense. As one of her first murders and the only murder she was convicted to death for, there is a possibility that she was telling the truth. The state attorney on the other hand, Mr. John Tanner poised himself as an expert on sociopathic murders by claiming that Aileen killed her victims to exert control over them by killing them. This is a flawed and generalized bogus expert testimony since Mallory had previously been convicted of sexual crimes and there is a high chance that he tried to rape Aileen before he was killed.
- Bogus Witnesses: The Aileen trial called into the witness box Moore her spouse, other witnesses and police officers. Moore and the police witnesses provided their witness statements and accounts to the media and movie producers receiving large stipends. As a result this might have caused the other witnesses to exaggerate their statements to attract attention from the media and movie producers for monetary gain (Dolores and Nolin, 2014).
- Negligent defense lawyers: Aileen’s first defense lawyer Steve Glazer was negligent in his handling of the case. As the public lawyer appointed for Aileen, it was his job to advise Aileen on the best courses of actions and defend her against extortion by the police investigators. He did not stop the police from roping in Moore to get a confession from Aileen and thus was negligent in his duties. He also did not insist for the trial to consider Aileen mentally unstable and not fit to stand trial a clear case of inefficient legal work.
An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story
Michael Morton was convicted in the murder of his wife in 1987 in a Williamson County Court in Texas for the 1986 murder of his wife Christine Morton. Christine was beaten to death at her home in Austin. On the given day Michael Morton was not at home, but this did not stop the police from considering him a suspect and arresting him in front of his 3 year old son. Michael spent 25 years until his exoneration in 2011 after DNA evidence proved that he was innocent.
- Faulty police investigation: There was a clear case of faulty police investigation in investigating the beating to death of Christine Morton. The investigators purely used circumstantial evidence that his wife had refused him sex in his birthday causing him to beat her to death. At the time of her death, Morton was not at home but still landed the blame. There was no evidence of any weapon or eye witness in the trial (Colloff, 2012).
- Biased judge: the judge was extremely incompetent in his handling of the case relying on the prosecution story rather than evidence from the crime scene. Together with the prosecutor, the judge refused DNA evidence to be tabled which would have exonerated Morton during the initial trial. The judge did not consider several eye witnesses who claimed that they had seen a green van parked next to Morton’s home and Morton’s son statement that the monster in red gloves and a moustache was not his father.
- Prosecution misconduct: the Williamson Ass. District attorney Mike Davis claimed that there was an inch thick stack of police reports which could have shifted the direction of Morton’s trial. The prosecution proved negligent by not considering and tabling this evidence during Morton’s trial.
- Negligent defense lawyers: Morton’s lawyers did a poor job in defending Morton in the murder case. First of all no tangible evidence was tabled in the trial and they did not insist on conducting DNA tests on the bandana and nail scrapings found in the victim’s body.
- Prosecutor negligence: The original prosecutor of Morton murder case, Ken Anderson is guilty of negligence and influencing a flawed trial on Morton. He denied Morton’s defense lawyers exculpatory evidence which could have exonerated Morton in the trial.
- Contempt of court: The police in collaboration with the prosecution were clearly in contempt of the court since they already had a prejudiced story and narrative on the case. By denying exculpatory evidence to the judge and defense lawyers, ignoring eye witness claims from Morton’s son who had witnessed the killing and stated that his father was not at home, and other neighbors who had spotted a green van in the estate.
- Denial of suspect rights: Morton had pleaded with the prosecution and law experts to conduct DNA tests on the objects obtained from the crime scene (Colloff, 2012). His pleadings were ignored and only a bedsheet which was not part of the crime scene tested and it contained Morton’s sperms.
- Lack of evidence: The prosecutor and the police did not table the bloodied bandana which was found at the crime scene and was a critical part in the trial. The eye witness claims of the child and neighbors who had spotted a mustached man with a green man were also not tabled. All this made the trial flawed and unjust.
- Sidelining of defense lawyers: Morton’s lawyers were put in a tight spot and could not actively defend their client. This was due to the prosecutor withholding vital evidence that could have proved Morton was innocent.
- Denial of DNA evidence: It is critical for the prosecution to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt for a crucial case like murder. The judge must also examine all possible narratives which he failed in this case by denying vehemently the use of DNA evidence on the nail scraps and bloody bandana from the crime scene (Colloff, 2012).
In order to conduct a fair criminal trial, it is important to consider the suspect innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately, the USA criminal justice has proven many times over of inefficiency in handling criminal cases. As a result the suspect is denied their right to a fair trial resulting in wrongful convictions, wasted years behind bars, wasted life and broken families. The law enforcement authorities must be vigilant in conducting their duty of collecting evidence to ensure that they have a water tight case before going to trial. In many instances police investigations are prejudiced with enforcement authorities having constructed their own narrative in a case and collecting evidence selectively to prove their case. It is also critical for the judges and jury to ensure that the suspect has a stable mental state before commencing with the trial. The major issues identified in the two cases are faulty police investigation, lack of sufficient evidence used in trials, prejudiced judge from trial publicity and public pressure, ignoring suspect mental state and prosecutorial misconduct as observed by not providing sufficient evidence or blackmailing suspects to get testimonies (Colloff, 2012). This issues continue to be prevalent in the United States criminal justice system which has led to increased conviction of the innocent or unfair judgments as a result of faulty and flawed testimonies and eye witness statements. There is need for the prosecution to be vetted and continually examined to ensure that they abide by the law to prevent unlawful convictions. The police also need to improve their investigation skills to ensure that they have provable evidence before putting one to trial. The judge should also desists from any form of bias by relying on actionable evidence and not bowing to public pressure.
Aileen was guilty in her trial for the murder of six men. However, the court denied her certain rights such as consideration of her mental state to try her as an insane person as proven by state psychiatrists (Dolores and Nolin, 2014). The prosecution and police used underhand tactics like blackmail to get confessions which is illegal and unethical.
In the case of Morton, it is clear that investigators had prejudice before starting the trial. The investigators and the prosecution had already established a narrative of what happened in the death of Christine. The prosecution showed contempt of court and misconduct by denying the judge and defense lawyers vital evidence (Colloff, 2012). It is also critical that all avenues of a case be examined to prove a case beyond reasonable doubt. By denying the defense DNA evidence the prosecution had already won the case since there was no other way to prove Morton’s innocence.
Colloff, P. (2012). “The Innocent Man, Part Two”. Texas Monthly. Retrieved from: http://www.texasmonthly.com/cms/printthis.php?file=feature2.php&issue=2012-12-01. Retrieved November 16, 2012.
Dolores, K. and Nolin, R. (2014). On a Killing Day: The Bizarre Story of Convicted Murderer Aileen Lee Wournos. Boston: S.P.I. Books.