Thursday, April 30, 2015

People v. Kopatz (Cal. Supreme Ct. - April 30, 2015)

This is an otherwise routine death penalty case in the California Supreme Court.  Unanimously affirmed.  Takes over 14 years to decide.  Ho-hum.

It's nonetheless a little unusual in a couple of ways.  First, most defendants sentenced to death are fairly consistently bad guys.  This one's not.  As far as I can tell, this is his first criminal offense.

Second, the evidence against most defendants sentenced to death is fairly overwhelming.  Which is not surprising.  Most criminals aren't that smart.  And even smart ones, in the modern forensics era, leave lots of clues.  Plus, in death penalty cases, the prosecution generally leaves no stone unturned.

But, here, the evidence that Kim Kopatz strangled his wife and daughter is incredibly thin.  Sure, he behaved strangely the day of the murder (though maybe he's just a strange guy).  And had motive as well as opportunity -- the victims had life insurance, and Mr. Kopatz was in serious debt.

But there's an incredibly slim amount of hard evidence that he actually committed the crimes.  Yes, he definitely could have done it.  Probably did.


Which is enough to sentence him to death.

If there are an infinite number of universes, I'm confident that in several of them, Mr. Kopatz isn't guilty, and that some other random person killed his wife and daughter, and yet he's executed for it.

Again, if I'm a betting man, I'm putting my money on Mr. Kopatz as the killer.  Even at fairly high odds.

But it definitely ain't rock solid.