Thursday Feb 04 2010
Our View: One more time? Another Madsen trial seems risky
Justice, at what time and cost? The Placer County District Attorney’s Office should seriously ponder that question as it decides whether to try Caleb John Madsen on charges of second-degree murder in the killing of Christopher Worth. It would be the fourth time Madsen would be tried in the case. Two previous trials on first-degree charges ended in mistrials, and on Monday a jury found Madsen not guilty on the first-degree charge. A second-degree murder charge ended in a 6-6 tie, allowing the judge to declare a mistrial and the DA’s Office to consider a retrial. County prosecutors must be extremely confident in their case. Not only would a fourth trial be expensive, but it would keep Madsen behind bars for many more months. On top of that, the county would go toe-to-toe again with Madsen’s attorney, Mary Beth Acton, who has shown she has the DA’s number in high-profile murder cases. It was Acton who was at the defense table in the two murder trials of Veronica Martinez Salcedo, a Roseville nanny charged with the murder of 15-month-old Hannah Rose Juceam in May 2006. The DA’s Office chose not to try Salcedo a third time in the “shaken baby” trial. Like the Salcedo case, the killing of Worth is a tragedy for everyone involved. Madsen and Worth were known friends, and the murder not only took the life of a promising young man, but also destroyed the future of another. And their families both continue to grieve. If a fourth trial is pursued, Madsen will have spent nearly five years in jail before a verdict is rendered. And, the deadlocked jury vote this week indicates the county prosecution has an uphill battle to land a unanimous conviction. What new evidence, or new approach to the evidence, can the county generate to change this? What have the first three trials cost county taxpayers, and what would a fourth add to the bill? At a time when the state and counties are wrestling with overcrowded jails and prisons, incarcerating a man not convicted in three trials seems extreme. Just this week, some counties released some non-violent offenders for good behavior to meet the tenets of Senate Bill x3 18. The bill, approved last September as an emergency effort to ease California’s prison population, is expected to reduce the state inmate load by more than 6,000 over time. But another component of that bill increased good-behavior credits for sentenced county jail inmates, allowing the most serious county jail inmates – those serving one-year sentences – to leave in six months rather than eight. Of course, if convicted of the second-degree murder charge, Madsen would be serving in prison, not Placer County Jail. The point, however, is that long-term incarceration should be reserved for those tried, convicted and sentenced for their crimes. The county DA’s Office is known for its tough stance against crime. When public safety and justice for crime victims are at stake, decisions regarding whether to retry hung-jury cases become extremely difficult. Unfortunately, time and money must be considered in this economy. Placer County prosecutors have put together compelling and convincing presentations in many recent cases to gain convictions that stand up to appeals. The DA’s Office did an outstanding job in the cases against Mario Garcia and Paul Kovacich, to name just a couple of recent success stories. But the evidence necessary to gain a conviction isn’t always there. It’s time to move on in the Madsen case. The county must take the families’, the community’s safety and taxpayers’ interests into consideration in their decision for a retrial. The evidence must be conclusive.