William F. Buckley
The trial of John Muhammad was followed by the reading public as a high suspense story. In the shadow of O.J. Simpson, this is likely to happen for years and decades to come. If O.J. was found not guilty, why can't everybody be found not guilty?

But even 30 years before O.J. killed his wife and her companion, a veteran of U.S. jurisprudence opined that "it has become ridiculously hard to prove simple guilt." I once wrote on the sluggishness of modern justice by contrasting two great political crimes, seven decades separated. Leon Czolgosz shot President McKinley on Sept. 6, 1901. There was no question about Czolgosz's guilt, and seven weeks later, having been convicted, he was executed. When Sirhan Sirhan gunned down Robert Kennedy on June 5, l968, in the presence of a dozen people, it took not seven but 44 weeks to find the assailant guilty. Sirhan Sirhan was condemned to death, which is something of a laughing matter. A critic wondered out loud whether Lloyd's of London gives reduced life insurance rates for Americans sentenced to death.

The Muhammad prosecution was hampered by eccentric goings-on by the defendant. At one point he dismissed his legal team, undertaking his own defense. Then he reinstated them. Then there was talk about whether, during the period when they were out of action, they missed a critical opportunity to question a key witness for the prosecution.

What did a key witness have to add? The prosecution had the car, fitted out with a peephole for the rifle, belonging to the defendant. The car contained sophisticated navigational devices useful for pinpointing the driver's position and that of a prospective victim. The defendant had been spotted at scenes of the crimes, and his DNA on the rifle was incriminating. The junior killer who was with Muhammad is now being tried, and is manifestly the assistant executor of the 10 killings done by the sniper partnership.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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