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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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Legal Trumpery


Donald Trump is to 'surrender' to a court in Atlanta on Thursday to face thirteen charges. As a Brit I have no dog in this fight, and DJT is definitely a Marmite person, but I am not alone in viewing the whole affair as at least partly party-politically motivated, employing a spray-and-pray tactic in the hope that at least one bullet will hit its target.

I grew up with illusions about criminal trials based on TV programmes like 'Ironside' and films such as Twelve Angry Men; having read John Grisham's court thrillers I now see the US system as more like World Wrestling Entertainment and having served on a UK jury… no, I cannot comment. Still, I should rather be tried in Britain than in France, even though the latter offers little scope for plea bargaining.

But when I read that Trump is to be arraigned under Georgia State law, where Presidential pardon has no validity, it reminded me of another case that raises concerns about the quality of justice there, at least if you are poor and/or black.

Ashley Jordan, who attended school in Mississippi, met Albert Debelbot from Palau, Micronesia when both were serving in the US Army. They married and at age 24 Ashley gave birth to their first child McKenzy on 29 May 2008 in Martin Army Community Hospital, Fort Moore, Georgia. The baby was taken home two days later and died early next morning. The couple were convicted of malice murder in 2009 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

There are concerns about the conduct not only of the original trial but also of the 2017 appeal, which was denied. A further appeal to Georgia's Supreme Court succeeded and the convictions were 'vacated' on 28 February 2020 and a new trial ordered. Subsequently the charges were dismissed and the Debelbots formally exonerated in 2021.

What can compensate for the loss of 12 years of their family life and precious child-bearing opportunities? A 2021 survey noted that 'state and municipal governments have paid more than $2.9 billion in compensation' to exonerees, but also said that more than half of the wronged individuals had yet to receive anything.


'While white exonerees spent an average of 7.5 years in prison, Black exonerees on average spent 10.4 years in prison. Further, while Black people in the U.S. only account for 13 percent of the population, they account for 49 percent of exonerees and 58 percent of the collective years served by exonerees.'

Worse, despite the injustice meted out to the Debelbots, Georgia (like 12 other States, as of March 2022 - now 11 others) still does not have such a scheme. The 'Wrongful Conviction Compensation Act' (HB1354) 'passed the House but never made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee' in 2022. A successor Bill HB364, again passed the House but died in Senate Committee earlier this year over a quibble about the difference between exoneration on a legal technicality and on grounds of positive proof of innocence.

Speaking of the presumption of innocence, Palau's Island Times reported:

'[The Debelbots'] conviction was based on a testimony of the State assistant medical examiner whose opinion is based on an autopsy report. The State gave no evidence tying the couple to their daughter's death and the couple's lawyer did not offer any alternative explanation or evidence or witnesses on how the baby died.' The defence attorneys at the original trial had offered no alternative explanation of the child's injuries, even though the hospital had recorded the birth as a 'rough, atypical delivery.'

The Assistant District Attorney at the 2009 trial attempted to 'make assurance double sure' by an outrageous explanation to the jury of 'reasonable doubt': it 'does not mean beyond all doubt… It does not mean to a mathematical certainty. Which means we don't have to prove that 90 percent. You don't have to be 90 percent sure. You don't have to be 80 percent sure. You don't have to be 51 percent sure.' That must have helped discussions in the jury room. Vacating the conviction on legal procedural grounds, in 2019 the Georgia Supreme Court commented, 'We cannot conceive of any good reason that a competent criminal defense attorney could have to fail to object to such an egregious misstatement of the law.'

But the Debelbots might have been cleared two years earlier, on evidential grounds, at the 2017 appeal hearing. As the Supreme Court noted, four medical experts giving evidence for the defence 'opined that the trauma of the birthing process caused the additional and more acute fracturing to the left side of McKenzy's skull, and denied that post-birth trauma caused McKenzy's injuries' but 'the court concluded in one sentence that all the Debelbots'witnesses, expert and otherwise, were not credible' and went on further to rule out their evidence as not legally admissible.

For now, the Debelbots must content themselves with having escaped from the jaws of Georgia justice with what remains of their lives.

It's said that conservatives see our freedoms as protected by institutions, though one would hope that their opponents would also see the value of such safeguards in underpinning the society that they hope to improve. When trust in those repositories of social capital is eroded, the chains on tyranny are loosened.

Even egregious, abrasive yobs have rights. Will order be preserved and faith in American justice be confirmed by the trial of Trump? 

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