Richardson: Arias conviction celebrated, but murder trials are a 50-50 proposition - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

Richardson: Arias conviction celebrated, but murder trials are a 50-50 proposition

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Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at

Posted: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 7:51 am | Updated: 10:37 am, Mon Aug 26, 2013.

It’s official: Jodi Arias is guilty of 1st Degree Murder in the death of Travis Alexander.

After the verdict, Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead told the press “he was very pleased with the police work that helped lead to Arias’ conviction. He called the lead detective’s work exemplary, and also praised the lab workers and other support staff. To not have police work come into question in a real high-profile case is amazing.”

Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Juan Martinez, who is known as a pit bull’s pit bull, took the complex case to trial and won hands down.

No doubt the family and friends of Alexander are pleased with the outcome. I don’t think there was any doubt in anyone’s mind after the “exemplary” police work done by “A-Team” from the Mesa Police Department and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office justice would be done. Chandler, Gilbert and Tempe police have also had their share of successes in recent high profile murder cases.

Mesa and Maricopa County spent millions of dollars to investigate, prosecute and defend Arias.

Murder is considered to be the ultimate crime. It’s the only crime in Arizona where punishment can mean a government ordered death.

Justice in a murder case isn’t cheap and unfortunately it isn’t always obtained. In Arizona it is a 50/50 proposition. Only about half of Arizona murder cases are ever solved.

Before a massive overhaul of the Mesa Police Department’s criminal investigations division by former Chief George Gascon and carried on by Milstead, Arias might have gotten away with murder. Mesa had a lousy track record of solving murders.

Sometimes the evidence isn’t there to identify the killer, make an arrest and bring someone to justice. Sadly, other times it comes down to having a police investigation that’s as good as money can buy versus one that is destined to fail from the beginning due to misplaced priorities, incompetence, laziness, poor training and supervision and even police misconduct.

While Arias was on trial, Deborah Jean Milke, who was convicted in 1990 of having her four-year-old son executed on a purported trip to see Santa Claus, was told her conviction was being thrown out because of misconduct committed by a Phoenix police detective when he purportedly obtained a voluntary confession.

We’ve heard endless stories about the mishandling of murder and sex crimes cases by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. The 1991 MCSO investigation of the deaths of six Buddhist monks, a nun and two others by a couple of west side teenagers that resulted in a 1993 murder conviction will soon be retried after an appeals court ruled detectives forced a confession from killer Jonathan Doody.

Even in the 90’s the rules on obtaining confessions and appropriate Miranda warnings and documenting proper police procedures were well established.

Its not just about forcing confessions and violating basic Constitutional rules that can ruin a murder case and prosecution.

In recent months there have been news stories about police botching and mishandling crime investigations, including murders, robberies and rapes. Officers failing to properly report information, mishandling evidence, stealing evidence, keeping evidence and reports at home in their garage, lying to get a search warrant, lying about qualifications and even lying to a murder victim’s family are not the way to properly and legally investigate crimes and insure justice for victims. You never want a jury questioning the integrity or competence of the police.

The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board has no standards for training and qualifications to be a homicide detective. Sometimes getting justice comes down to the luck of the draw and getting murdered where police know how to do a good and legal investigation.

While the winners and their supporters sing the praises of the Arias murder conviction we need to remember the other half of the family and friends of murder victims who might never see justice.

Not every murder victim and their family get justice like in the Arias case.

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