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Defense Closing Argument state competition 2008
Ladies and Gentlemen, The death of Jeni Hendrickson was truly tragic. It should never have happened. We also agree there was a robbery - and that Kex Foster was one of the robbers. But today the Prosecution has failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt - because Whitney Dwight is Not Guilty. As the instructions spell out - a reasonable doubt is such a doubt as would cause a reasonable person to hesitate to act in matters of importance to themselves. This case is replete with issues that would make any reasonable person hesitate to act.
As Ms. Wiltse said in our Opening Statement - “A wise man does not build his home upon a foundation of quicksand.” The foundation of the Prosecution’s case is an inadequate initial investigation and a biased followup. Look at the initial police report. Critical eyewitnesses were not interviewed at the time of the robbery. Sky Willow was working the stall right across from the robbery. If She had been interviewed, the police would have known about the Zucchini incident. Another example, the people who saw the Cadillac leave a nearby garage. Witness names weren’t even taken and no one asked them the color of the car. Similarly, Dursley Thompson told you that if his/her written statement had been taken, his/her memory would have been more accurate. Fingerprints and DNA were never taken from the steering wheel of Ms. Dwight’s car. They could have confirmed that someone else drove the car. Police even failed to maintain the integrity of evidence seized - they lost the feather off the magic wand. This police incompetence would make any reasonable person to hesitate in important matters in their own lives.
Let’s next consider the testimony of Dr. Cavanaugh. S/he accepted Exhibit 5 as accurate only because it was made by a police officer. She was willing to render an opinion on legal cause of death without any factual basis. The doctor’s bias is obvious. How could any reasonable person rely on the doctor’s opinion about medical cause of death - after listening to his/her opinion about legal cause of death?
What about the follow up investigation? Once Detective Hoyt found Bailey Lightenen, he never considered the possibility that Leightenen was the second robber. The Prosecution wants you to believe Whitney Dwight committed this crime because she knew the robbery plans, was present at the market and never contacted police before or after the robbery. Well, all those facts are also true about Bailey Leightenen. And Lightenen had two good reasons to point at Whitney Dwight: Leightenen didn’t like Ms. Dwight - and Ms. Dwight did not know for sure that Leightenen had agreed to do the robbery. It is also significant that other members of the Dominos knew about the robbery and never contacted police. Obviously people should report crimes. But they often fail to report what they know because of fear, misplaced loyalty or other reasons. It does not mean they committed the crime themselves. The Prosecution’s willingness to jump to such illogical conclusions should also cause reasonable people to hesitate in this case.
The next issue is Detective Hoyt’s improper conduct. Hoyt obviously put words into Dursley Thompson’s mouth. Dursley Thompson never thought “Vamous Dominos” was said - until Hoyt told him/her things about Ms. Dwight seven years later. How can any reasonable juror trust a police office willing to manipulate a witness in this manner?
Finally, The Prosecution has totally failed to recognize that Whitney Dwight was only 16 years when these events occurred. She was not a sophisticated adult with extensive life experience. Even so, she handled her self-esteem issues properly. But sixteen year old teenagers do not make perfect decisions. Sometimes they panic. Sometimes they rely on others when they should act themselves. Thankfully you have brought your common sense with you today. Putting Whitney Dwight’s actions in proper context is one more reason that you jurors should hesitate in this case.
Member of the jury, Justice will not be done by convicting the wrong person. Justice demands that you return a verdict of Not Guilty. Do not punish this remarkable young woman for something she did not do.
|Copyright Sarah Lewis 2008|