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YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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Bob Dunning: Trial coverage is about justice, not the bottom line

BobDunning2W

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From page A2 | February 05, 2014 | 8 Comments

Several times in the past year I’ve used this space to argue that all court proceedings in the case of accused double-murderer Daniel Marsh should be completely open, that nothing should take place out of public view and attention.

Clearly, the details of this case are incredibly disturbing, whether or not Daniel Marsh turns out to be the one who so viciously and wantonly took the lives of Oliver “Chip” Northup and his wife Claudia Maupin last April.

While news organizations pretty much unanimously agree that all proceedings should be open, I regularly hear from people in the community who feel otherwise.

Some cite the defendant’s young age (16 now, 15 at the time of the murders), while others claim we are guilty of “sensationalism” in a self-serving attempt to sell newspapers.

Yes, we are in the business of selling newspapers, but trust me, a murder trial — no matter how sensational — is not likely to change your bottom line. Circulation is built over a long period of time by giving your readers a product they know and trust.

Part of that, no doubt, is covering this high-profile case in depth, which is why The Enterprise has assigned the best of the best, reporter Lauren Keene, to cover this story.

In an editorial last Sunday, The Enterprise noted that “Marsh’s attorney, Rob Johnson, filed a motion to exclude the teenager’s alleged confession to police, and he wants the hearing on that motion closed. The defense asserts that the publicity surrounding the case compromises Marsh’s right to a fair trial. Not only does he want the suppression hearing closed, he is demanding that the transcript of the hearing be sealed and a gag order imposed on participants.”

Johnson is, of course, only doing his job, which is to defend his client to the utmost of his ability. But his motion to suppress should be denied.
Some say it’s unnecessary for the public to know the specific and brutal details of this horrific crime. In fact, I’m looking at an email from a kind woman named Ann, who attempts to make that very case.

“I’m not sure what purpose providing those details serves for the general public, other than to inflame emotions, scare the wits out of some, and pander to the prurient interests of others.”

Ann is right in that the details of this case have indeed inflamed emotions in some, scared the wits out of others and possibly appealed to the prurient interests of still others.

But let’s imagine for a moment that the details had been kept from the public from the time of the arrest through myriad motions and hearings, and finally through a trial. All of it closed out of deference to the defendant’s age and his right to a fair trial.
So even if he is convicted, again behind closed doors, all we will know is that two Davisites died in some sort of a home invasion and presumably someone will serve time for this offense.

People can speculate as to whether the victims in this case were shot or stabbed or strangled or perhaps simply had a fatal heart attack upon encountering an intruder in the middle of the night. Or maybe someone slipped and hit their head.

No, contrary to the sincere and heartfelt opinions of Ann and many like her in our community, the public does have a need to know what actually and specifically happened that night, as painful and disturbing as that information might be.

Until and unless we know the details of the case, it will be impossible to know if justice has been served. And since the court is acting exclusively in the name of the people, the people need to know what is happening in that courtroom. Otherwise, how can we assess a jury’s verdict of guilty or not guilty if we’ve been kept in the dark throughout the entire process?

My friend Ann notes that “Nowhere do you mention that you are talking about the trial of a child who is being tried as an adult.”

Quite the contrary. I think the defendant’s age has been mentioned in virtually every news report and analysis of this case from day one.

Adds Ann: “The young defendant should be treated according to his age — as a child accused of a horrific crime, but still, a child.”

While I recognize that our system of justice does in most cases take into account the age of the perpetrator — or in this case, alleged perpetrator — there are some crimes so threatening to public safety that the age of the perpetrator becomes a secondary consideration at best. This is precisely such a crime.

The first and foremost goal of the criminal justice system is the protection of society. After that we can talk about “rehabilitation” of the criminal, but even then, the primary reason we hope to rehabilitate an offender is still the protection of society. Put simply, we rehabilitate in the hope the criminal doesn’t offend again.

Without commenting on the guilt or innocence of this specific defendant, I don’t care if the person who committed these murders was 15 or 50 or 150, he (or she) should never again be walking among us.

— Reach Bob Dunning at bdunning@davisenterprise.net

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Discussion | 8 comments

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  • Fred HarveyFebruary 05, 2014 - 7:10 am

    It always strikes me as odd when people jump on the "underage" bandwagon in such a case as the Chip murders. Murder is an adult crime and individuals who commit adult crimes should be brought to justice as adults, regardless of age. After all, Chip and Claudia are dead at the hands of a murderer regardless of the perpetrator's age. Is their death somehow less serious because of the age of the murderer? Is the public less deserving of full disclosure because of the age of the criminal? Exactly how is the public protected through shielding the proceedings because of age? For that matter, how is the suspect protected through gag orders? Or are those who jump on the aforesaid bandwagon using age as an excuse to avoid the unpleasant truth or as denial of the crime? As such I have never understood the need for juvenile matters being adjudicated behind closed doors. It was once explained to me by a bailiff that an open hearing on a juvenile matter could traumatize the minor defendant. And I then wonder, what about the sensitivity of the victims? Who worries about that?

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  • RKFebruary 05, 2014 - 8:58 am

    I understand the purpose of maintaining confidentiality in juvenile matters, where the "crimes" are juvenile in nature (ones that wouldn't be crimes if they were adults or ones that can be viewed as juvenile misbehavior). But where the crimes involve purposeful violence against others, resulting in injury, or death, teens are charged as adults and adult rules apply. Marsh should not be treated any differently than drive-by shooters in Woodland have in the past. No one asked that the trials be closed for those young men. Marsh's trial should be handled the same.

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  • Noreen MazelisFebruary 05, 2014 - 5:13 pm

    Well said, Fred Harvey.

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  • Rich RifkinFebruary 05, 2014 - 6:06 pm

    "It always strikes me as odd when people jump on the "underage" bandwagon in such a case as the Chip murders." ........... Before any criminal case goes to trial I think it is reasonable and wise to have the court--not the prosecutor or defense--look into the question of the defendant's ability to make rational decisions and understand right from wrong. If a defendant is seriously mentally ill, I don't think he ought to be held to account for his crimes. He would be, however, a grave danger to society and such persons need to be held in locked psychiatric facilities where they would get proper medical treatment. If a defendant is severely retarded, I again don't think he ought to be held to account for his crimes. But like the psychotic, he also should no longer be free to walk our streets. Lastly, if the defendant is a minor child, the court should inquire as to his ability to understand right from wrong. In the case of a 15-year-old, barring retardation or psychosis, I think the answer must be yes. But with some very young children who do horrible acts, they are unable to understand right from wrong. And because of that, they don't belong in the criminal (juvenile) justice system. They likely need much better parents. And where one goes for that I am not sure.

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  • Davis G'maFebruary 05, 2014 - 9:32 am

    A few thoughts: " ...details of this case have indeed inflamed emotions in some, scared the wits out of others and possibly appealed to the prurient interests of still others." I'm part of a fourth group of people who are saddened by the murders but prefer to not know the details. As far as the media revealing details prior to the trial, I agree that it will be difficult to find an objective jury. But, there may be many other people in Yolo County who have chosen to not follow the news articles for one reason or another, including not being subscribers to The Enterprise. Thirdly, I was privy to a small amount of inside information about the Riggins / Gonsalves murders in months following the crimes - details that were terrible to hear. If I'm remembering correctly, those details were not broadcast in the newspaper until after the second and final trial, several decades after the crimes. Finally, I'd like The Enterprise to remember that Northrup and Maupin were respected senior citizens. Though they are gone, there should be consideration made when revealing details of a very private nature.

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  • S.T.February 05, 2014 - 2:49 pm

    I am certain that as far back as my memory can go, I was very well grounded in the idea that to harm or physically hurt another person was a no,no. So what kindergarten did this person attend? He had to be aware of what he was doing. He had to know the awfullness of his actions. In my opinion, he should be tried as an adult, and the pertinent facts should be transparent.

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  • RyanFebruary 05, 2014 - 4:22 pm

    Bob says the motion to suppress should be denied, but says literally nothing to explain why. He only discusses why the hearing on that motion shouldn't be closed. I doubt he even meant to opine on whether the motion should be denied. Those with a public forum should be cautious in discussing these things, especially since the members of the same public who read the newspaper may be called upon to serve as jurors. (That is why it may be necessary to close pretrial hearings. It's not about the defendant's age.)

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  • Lisa N.February 21, 2014 - 12:47 pm

    I couldn't agree more with Bob Dunning! The public should absolutely know everything. I live right down the road from the defendants house, having to pass it several times a day. Prior to the murders I was living under a false sense of security with windows WIDE open! I went out soon after and bought locks for all my windows, and talked to my children about what happened. I believe knowledge is power and even my kids need to know there are sickos (even peers) anywhere! I have taught them to trust their instincts and report anything that feels wrong to them. I shudder to think had Daniel Marsh chosen our home with my precious children sound asleep inside that night. In Daniels confession to police officers (ANOTHER IMPORTANT DETAIL TO BE AWARE OF) he said he was looking to murder again and bash their head in with a baseball bat. Before that, I thought nothing of allowing my soon to be 13 year old son to walk Putah Creek path alone to and from Montgomery Elementary school. Eh, not anymore! It's a huge wake up call that these horrific types of things DO happen even in Davis. We are not immune. The big question we should all be asking ourselves as parents, and community members is what did we miss? Were there red flags, warnings signs that we ignored that could have potentially foreseen & thwarted Daniel Marsh in committing the heinous murders of Chip and Claudia? Could there have been early intervention therapy applied here? I am disgusted the people of Davis are not making a bigger deal of this. It's virtually swept under the rug. I also think a civil suit should be filed again both parents for failing to successfully help their son. They knew Daniel was very ill, yet they allowed him to roam free and without consequence.

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