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Presumed innocent
Not the same as innocent
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Recently, during Jeffrey Chapman’s two-week trial on first-degree murder charges, the Great Bend Tribune showed photos of Chapman walking to the Barton County Courthouse in the presence of Barton County Sheriff’s Officers. Because he was wearing modern constraints not visible to the naked eye, some people assumed he posed a flight risk and wondered what law enforcement officers were thinking.
The Tribune staff knew, as did readers who recalled the last murder trail in Barton County, that suspects no longer need to wear shackles to ensure they can’t escape. However, we waited until after the verdict to answer the question. One reason for waiting was that officers didn’t want to comment during the trial. But in fact, Chapman wore a stun belt under his clothes, and a leg brace that limited his mobility. Both were hidden under his street clothes, so that the jury would not see him in jail garb. This is done to help the defendant get a fair trial.
Once the trial was done, we wrote a story with the headline “Invisible restraints keep prisoners at bay.” The article explained that, while it may have appeared otherwise, “there was very little chance of Chapman getting away.” That phrase “very little” could also be written as, “virtually no chance.”
One of our social media readers found the story confusing and complained, “Is the Tribune attempting to garner sympathy for this convicted felon?” Another person thought we were criticizing the Barton County Sheriff’s Office with our “misleading headline,” and she said the “sensationalism is a low blow.”
That was not sensationalism. It would be sensationalism to say: “COPS EAGERLY AWAIT CHANCE TO ZAP SUSPECTED KILLERS #@1l$ OFF!!!”
Thank goodness other online readers understood what we reported. One even commented, “This is an educational article, so read it carefully before jumping to conclusions.”
Here’s a funny thing. Some people think Chapman was innocent of murder until the moment the jury came back with a guilty verdict. In fact, he was guilty of murder the moment he committed murder.
However, our judicial system has a thing called presumption of innocence. That’s not hard to understand. It means he has the right to a fair trial, and the prosecution needs to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Unless and until that happens he is “presumed innocent.” As TheFreeDictionary.com’s legal dictionary explains, “(Presumption of innocence) is not considered evidence of the defendant’s innocence, and it does not require that a mandatory inference favorable to the defendant be drawn from any facts in evidence.”
We did not know Chapman was guilty until the jury weighed the evidence. From now on, we can presume his guilt.
When the story becomes the story, someone has probably missed the point.