Continued from yesterday:

Questions That Need To Be Answered

All in all, the disposition of the case raises a number of questions about the local justice system, but before that important conversation could even take place, a Commercial Appeal editorial did its best to shut it down. That’s too bad, because it seems long overdue, most particularly because the effectiveness of the justice system depends on the public’s confidence in its fairness sound decisions.

The good news is that Lawrence Buser, a veteran reporter among the increasingly green staff at The Commercial Appeal, covers the justice system, so despite his own editorial board’s quick acceptance of the prosecutor’s actions, we’re willing to bet that he’s got questions of his own to pursue.

More Questions Than Answers

Here’s some that come to mind:

· Why was the prosecutor’s office not more influenced by the opinions of the Wright family? Is there something about Mr. Wright that it needs to tell us?

· Why did it charge Mardis with capital murder if its case was as thin as they describe it now?

· How did the two witnesses for Mardis negate the cumulative weight of the witness who was told that black inspectors shouldn’t be sent to Mardis’ property, the witness who saw Mardis in Mr. Wright’s truck and the witnesses who were told by Mardis that he killed Mr. Wright in a confrontation over a courtesy citation? Did the D.A.’s office interview the two Mardis witnesses?

· If the attorney general’s office feared that Mardis could win a self-defense argument, did they take statements from co-workers about Mr. Wright’s personality and professional demeanor? Did they get statements from members of the public who received citations from Mr. Wright and reported no problems?

· When does “No Deal” not really mean “No Deal?”

· What do the records of the much-vaunted “No Deal” program show? What percentage of the D.A.’s cases are settled with plea bargains to lesser charges?

· Why didn’t the prosecutor’s office have an alternate theory of the case so it didn’t gamble the entire case with an “all or nothing” prosecution based on its hate crime theory?

· Why did the prosecutor’s office allow Mardis to plead no contest? If the “No Deal” program guidelines are to be abandoned, shouldn’t there at least be a requirement that a defendant has to plead guilty?

· If, as Mr. Henderson says, it’s unethical for the prosecutor’s office to prosecute someone if it doesn’t think prosecutors can get a conviction, isn’t it just as unethical to allow that person to be sentenced to 15 years?

· Does the 15-year sentence mean that Mardis will really serve 15 years in prison?

The Verdict Is Out

The Commercial Appeal editorial pointed out rightly that the prosecutors aren’t the bad guys in this case; Mardis is. But it’s up to the public to determine if they are really the good guys, or if they have just become functionaries of an uncaring system. Unlike the editorial writers, most of us can’t reach such immediate opinions with such an absence of definitive information.

Yes, the Wright family deserves to have all of its questions answered. Even more importantly, so does the public.

Until then, put simply, the jury is still out on this one.