Wrong Facts in Child Molestation Case Give Wrong Results

June 24, 2009

Bill O’Reilly’s “No Spin Zone” told its viewers last week about “an injustice in Oklahoma.”  The story concerns the charge of child molestation in McAlester, Oklahoma, against one David Harold Earls.  O’Reilly stated as fact that a 4-year old girl accused the man of child molestation, and a 5-year old boy corroborated this allegation.  With these as stated “facts”, O’Reilly then gave himself up to outrage that defendant David Harold Earls was sentenced to only one year in prison for this heinous crime, and why didn’t the Attorney General investigate this and why didn’t Governor Brad Henry do something about this and was everyone covering up because Governor Henry went to school with the sentencing judge so it’s an obvious cover-up. That was O’Reilly’s claim, that the District Attorney and the judge should be reprimanded because the result was not fair from the facts of the case.

No doubt child molestation is a detestable crime, and anyone guilty of molesting a 4-year old child deserves more than a one-year sentence.  In this case, defendant Earls received in addition to the one year sentence 19 years on suspended sentence, little difference.  And Earls is predicted to live only for three more years due to illness, also no significant difference.  Regardless, the issue is the justification of such a sentence for such a crime.

Now the Daily Oklahoman has devoted a front-page story to the case.  That story gives a deeper look at the evidence in the case, critical evidence which O’Reilly did not mention, critical evidence which the District Attorney had to face in deciding whether to take the case to jury trial or offer some plea agreement to prevent defendant Earls from going scott free.

It appears that what O’Reilly gave as “evidence” is only one version from the witnesses.
The 5-year old boy did at one point accuse David Harold Earls of touching inappropriately the 4-year old girl. Then the boy changed his story and denied his earlier statement.

The 4-year old girl did indeed accuse David Harold Earls at one time. However, the child could not testify as a witness, even by remote transmission outside the courtroom.   She came to court to testify as a witness in a pretrial hearing, and Judge Thomas Bartheld, the judge in the case, tried five times to have her sworn as a witness.  The little girl was unable to settle down enough take the oath as a witness.  She never did took it.  Does O’Reilly suggest the little girl could be a witness without taking the oath of a witness?  Would O’Reilly agree to be tried by a jury, facing life in prison, in a trial in which witnesses were not required to take an oath before testifying?  For centuries, all witnesses have been required to take the oath.  Does O’Reilly advocate elimination of this practice?   He simply does not mention this fact.

The physical evidence of abuse was reported to be“consistent with” abuse.   This evidence might be of some help, but only if some witness could link it to defendant Earls, show Earls  was responsible for it.  There were no such witnesses, so it was of no help.

The District Attorney, J.D. Miller, stated his staff knew they could not prove their case against defendant Earls.   The standard of persuasion for proof to a jury is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and the prosecution staff recognized this case was overflowing with doubts.  So the prosecution chose to get the most they could get against Earls.

Apparently O’Reilly would have had the prosecutor present the case to the jury, obtain an inevitable verdict of “Not Guilty”, and then blame the jury or blame the prosecutor for presenting a faulty case.  Blame somebody, anybody, just get headlines.  O’Reilly does not understand or forgets that the prosecutor does not manufacture evidence.  The prosecutor can only present the case as he finds it.

O’Reilly sent his reporter, Geraldo Rivera, a law school graduate himself, with his television crew and a microphone to Judge Barteld’s chambers, most certainly for an ambush interview. When Judge Bartheld declined an interview, they claimed the judge was “hiding.”  Surprise. More sizzle, more conspiracy, no facts.

The 4-year girl’s grandmother clearly states the District Attorney and the judge in this case did the best they could with the evidence.  “We were over a barrel because of the children’s inability to testify with any consistency,” the grandmother stated.  “One minute they would be OK with testifying, and the next minute they would want to play or be crying to get out of the courtroom.”  The children’s mother said it became apparent the children were incapable of testifying.  (“INCAPABLE OF TESTIFYING!”)  Each time they were questioned about the abuse, the children had behavioral problems.  “For my children, this was the best deal, “the mother said.  O’Reilly does not even mention the approval of the one-year sentence by the  victim’s grandmother and mother, does not mention their stated understanding of why the plea agreement was offered by the District Attorney and approved by Judge Bartheld.  Why did O’Reilly omit any reference to the mother or grandmother?  Why did he omit any reference to the inability of the children to testify?

Now defendant’s daughter, Denise Earls, now 38 years old, last week claimed Earls raped her when she was a child.  Does this that make the evidence any better in the case under discussion or does that just make Earls look more guilty?  One cannot help wondering why this woman waited for so many decades before coming forward, why she did not speak up earlier to protect other girls from defendant Earls if her claim is true.  Regardless, it’s too late for new evidence for the case under discussion.  Defendant Earls plead and was sentenced over a month ago, and there is no legal provision for the District Attorney to undo that deal now.  New allegations of past wrongdoing by this defendant do not change the fact that there were no witnesses available at the time Earls’ case was called for jury trial.   And the addition of such circumstantial evidence, if ruled admissible, would not have proved Earls committed this crime in this case.

The 4-year old child and her mother have now moved away, trying to get on with their lives.  One other victim in this case was the truth. The deliberate twisting of the evidence by Bill O’Reilly was unfortunate, obviously given to add sensation at the expense of truth.  I, for one, used to enjoy O’Reilly’s take.  Anytime I watch him from now on, however, I will wonder whether he is fairly and truthfully presenting the facts.

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