Linda Chavez

If there was ever a more irresponsible decision by a U.S. attorney general than Eric Holder's decision to try the mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attack and four others as common criminals in a civilian court in New York City, I can't recall it. He is gambling with the nation's security and providing a platform that will give aid and comfort to the enemy at a time of war. And he is doing so with no discernible benefit, least of all to showcase the strength of our judicial system.

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Does Eric Holder remember the most infamous criminal trial of the 20th century, the 1995 trial of O.J. Simpson for the murder of his estranged wife, Nicole, and Ronald Goldman? There are obvious differences between a criminal murder trial in a state court and one tried in federal district court -- and, the O.J. trial featured incompetent prosecutors who tried their case before an inept judge -- but there are also problems inherent in the system that may not be avoided. No matter what Holder says about failure to convict not being an option, our entire legal system is based on the presumption of innocence of the accused and there are simply no guarantees.

A look back at what went wrong in the O.J. trial is chilling. The die was cast in favor of acquittal the moment the jurors were seated. They were not a cross-section of Los Angeles, where the trial was held: There were 10 women, two men; nine blacks, two whites, and one Hispanic. Their education was below average -- nine had only a high school education and 1 lacked even that. According to the questionnaires they filled out before they were selected, none regularly read a newspaper, but eight regularly watched tabloid TV; five thought it was sometimes permissible to use physical force against a family member; and four reported they or a family member had had a negative experience with police. All were registered Democrats.

The first thing that defense attorneys will do when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed comes to trial is attempt to get a jury that looks very much like O.J.'s. Urban juries -- especially those comprised disproportionately of African-Americans -- are far more likely than suburban or rural juries to acquit criminal defendants. In one recent study of Baltimore city conviction rates, compared to those in the surrounding county, city jurors were over 30 times more likely to acquit for the most serious charges in criminal trials than their suburban counterparts.


Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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