It is a good thing the Pinal County Attorney’s Office has decided not to pursue the death penalty in a number of cases.
That’s because with the way things are going, most Pinal murder suspects are going to die of old age before their cases go to trial.
According to our justice reporter, Jim Headley, the biggest culprit in delays is the expert witnesses. Attorneys lining up paid expert witnesses sometimes have to compete with their schedules and appearances at other trials and events across the country.
Yes, expert witnesses have become a cottage industry.
Last week Pinal Superior Court Judge Delia Neal vacated Brian Shaw’s trial date for the second time this year at the request of the prosecution.
Shaw, 48, was scheduled to go to trial in the Coolidge case on Sept. 23. He is accused of beating his wife to death with a baseball bat.
It is the seventh time his trial date has been vacated and the second time on behalf of prosecutors this year, making it the longest-running case in Pinal County.
Judge Neal also ordered a restart to the seven-year-old murder case against Brian Kirby, who is accused of the “brutal murder” of 42-year-old Lora A. Athey in her Apache Junction home.
The Pinal County Attorney’s Office requested a continuance Sept. 6 because five necessary law enforcement witnesses would be unavailable to testify during the scheduled time of the trial, court records show.
Then there’s William Randolph. His defense attorney told Judge Jason Holmberg his side will not likely be ready for trial until sometime in 2021. He asked that the upcoming Jan. 27 trial date be vacated as “experts” would not have things ready for trial until at least December 2020.
Headley reported Holmberg was clearly frustrated by the motion and prosecutors.
Randolph, 29, of Casa Grande, is facing the death penalty for the alleged first-degree murder of Cody Virgin, whose charred remains were found in February 2017 south of Coolidge.
Holmberg set a status review in the case for Nov. 22 but said it is too early to attempt to set a trial date.
The wheels of justice move so slowly in Pinal County that some might think the caveman who invented the wheel simply took a bypass around the county on his way to Phoenix and Tucson.
“Justice delayed is justice denied” is a legal maxim meaning that if legal redress is available for a party who has suffered some injury, but is not forthcoming in a timely fashion, it is effectively the same as having no redress at all.
The right to a speedy trial is meant to expedite the legal system for the benefit of the accused. But in murder cases, the party that has most suffered injury would be the victims, and their friends and relatives who are seeking closure.
The phrase has become a rallying cry for legal reformers who view courts or governments as acting too slowly in resolving legal issues because the existing system is too complex or overburdened.
But in many murder cases, the issue seems to be time. Many appeals have succeeded because attorneys say their client was not afforded enough time to prepare a proper defense.
The Speedy Trial Clause is part of the Sixth Amendment. But that right is routinely waived by mutual agreement of the attorneys for the prosecution and the defense.
The problem is this waiver is usually done for strategic purposes by the attorneys rather than in the best interest of justice.
It is time for the legal system to put a cap on the time it takes to prosecute a case, regardless of the circumstances.
Many judges will grant motions for more time because they don’t want their cases to be appealed to a higher court after adjudication.
But time is not evidence.
Everyone wants more time to perform tasks, not just attorneys. But at some point a supervisor, instructor or parent will set a standard for how long it should take to perform a task.
The legal system should be no different. There should be a standard time frame at which all extensions stop for murder cases, say five years.
Since we are talking legal reform, here is an appropriate Latin phrase: tempus edax rerum (time devours all things).
Andy Howell can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.