A Stupid Remark


There is no shortage of people who still believe that actor Robert Blake killed his wife, even though a jury last week decided the case hadn’t been adequately proved and set him free. Does that add up to a stupid jury?

Blake did have special advantages, mostly attached to dollar signs. He’s a celebrity, and he spent millions for the best lawyers, the best PR and the best jury-selection advisors. The case was circumstantial, and as in many other criminal cases, the prosecution witnesses had credibility problems. Legal experts had their own criticisms of how the prosecution was presented.

A related issue is the “CSI effect” described last Friday in The Times: Hourlong TV crime dramas always reach a just conclusion with no doubts or loose ends, leading people to think that’s the way it is in real life.


Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, talking Tuesday night to reporters, cited some of these things, but also stated that the jury in the Blake case was “incredibly stupid.”

Cooley no doubt spoke in frustration. But on Thursday, he stood by the phrase. He offered examples, citing a juror selling songs about the trial, another possibly writing a book. He complained of a general lack of “critical thinking” on the panel.

Cooley can think all the nasty thoughts about jurors he wants, but speaking the words in public isn’t going to help the courts in a county that still has to scrounge, cajole and threaten to round up enough jurors.

Anyone can lie his or her way out of jury duty by citing outlandish beliefs about the justice system. So justice, even our necessarily imperfect justice, depends on the goodwill of the retirees, mechanics, postal workers and screenwriters called for duty.

It’s too bad there wasn’t a mother at his elbow as Cooley dissed the jury, telling him, “Don’t you mean to say that you believe the jury made a mistake, dear?” That in fact was how Cooley phrased it Thursday, even while defending his earlier statement.

Every trial that goes south on the prosecution bears lessons for the next trial. Blaming “incredibly stupid” jurors only helps smother the learning curve.