Collision Course

Monday, February 27, AD 2017


The things that you find on the internet.  I recently found on You Tube a television movie from 1976, Collision Course, which deals with the conflict between Douglas MacArthur and Harry Truman over Korean War policy.  I had seen the movie when it was first broadcast, and was delighted to watch it again.  Go here to watch the entire movie.  The late Henry Fonda stars as MacArthur and the late E.G. Marshall portrays Truman.  The Truman MacArthur conflict is often seen as a vindication of the right of the President to call the shots when it comes to foreign policy and waging war, but the conflict was actually caused by an abdication of presidential responsibility.  Truman viewed Korea as a potentially dangerous annoyance, and he wanted this “police action” wrapped up as soon as possible.  No planning was made about what to do if the Chinese intervened.  A sensible policy would have been to order MacArthur to form a defensive line north of Pyongyang and across to Wonsan.  The Korean peninsula narrows to a hundred miles at this point and would have been quite defensible with American firepower in the event of Chinese intervention.  Instead MacArthur, who was convinced that the Chinese would not intervene, was left free to conduct a helter-skelter advance to the Yalu, secure in his misguided belief that the Chinese would not intervene, and that if they did, he could easily defeat them.  MacArthur was guilty of military malpractice and Truman was guilty of presidential nonfeasance.

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Video Clip Worth Watching: Lincoln Calms a Lynch Mob

Tuesday, January 5, AD 2016

Henry Fonda didn’t resemble Abraham Lincoln, but in his folksy mannerisms and stump speech oratory, he conjures up well the spirit of Lincoln the prairie lawyer in John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (1939).   Fonda didn’t want to take the role at first, feeling himself inadequate to play the Great Emancipator.  Ford called him up, and in a profanity laced tirade told Fonda that he would not be portraying President Lincoln, but rather Lincoln as a wet behind the ears attorney.  Fonda took the role.

Four years later, Fonda would star in the great anti-lynching movie, The Ox Bow Incident (1943):

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One Response to Video Clip Worth Watching: Lincoln Calms a Lynch Mob

  • “The Ox Bow Incident” was a great movie based on a great book. If memory serves me right I think that Anthony Quinn won an Oscar, making him the first Mexican-American to gain that honor.

Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!

Thursday, August 2, AD 2012


One of my least favorite trial dramas is Twelve Angry Men (1957).  As a defense attorney with thirty years experience I find it hilarious as Henry Fonda convinces his fellow jurors that the Defendant is not really guilty.  Why do I find it hilarious?  It is such a stacked deck!  Just like a Socratic “Dialogue” the argument is tailored to make the case for the Defendant, and no contrary arguments are allowed to stand as Fonda steamrolls all opposition and saves the day for truth, justice and the American way! Or did he?  Mike D’Angelo at AV Club has a brilliant analysis of why Fonda and his fellow jurors likely let a murderer off the hook:

Here’s what has to be true in order for The Kid to be innocent of the murder:

  • He coincidentally yelled “I’m gonna kill you!” at his father a few hours before someone else killed him. How many times in your life have you screamed that at your own father? Is it a regular thing?


  • The elderly man down the hall, as suggested by Juror No. 9 (Joseph Sweeney), didn’t actually see The Kid, but claimed he had, or perhaps convinced himself he had, out of a desire to feel important.


  • The woman across the street saw only a blur without her glasses, yet positively identified The Kid, again, either deliberately lying or confabulating.


  • The Kid really did go to the movies, but was so upset by the death of his father and his arrest that all memory of what he saw vanished from his head. (Let’s say you go see Magic Mike tomorrow, then come home to find a parent murdered. However traumatized you are, do you consider it credible that you would be able to offer no description whatsoever of the movie? Not even “male strippers”?)


  • Somebody else killed The Kid’s father, for reasons completely unknown, but left behind no trace of his presence whatsoever.


  • The actual murderer coincidentally used the same knife that The Kid owns.


  • The Kid coincidentally happened to lose his knife within hours of his father being stabbed to death with an identical knife.

The last one alone convicts him, frankly. That’s a million-to-one shot, conservatively. In the movie, Fonda dramatically produces a duplicate switchblade that he’d bought in The Kid’s neighborhood (which, by the way, would get him disqualified if the judge learned about it, as jurors aren’t allowed to conduct their own private investigations during a trial), by way of demonstrating that it’s hardly unique. But come on. I don’t own a switchblade, but I do own a wallet, which I think I bought at Target or Ross or some similar chain—I’m sure there are thousands of other guys walking around with the same wallet. But the odds that one of those people will happen to kill my father are minute, to put it mildly. And the odds that I’ll also happen to lose my wallet the same day that a stranger leaves his own, identical wallet behind at the scene of my father’s murder (emptied of all identification, I guess, for this analogy to work; cut me some slack, you get the idea) are essentially zero. Coincidences that wild do happen—there’s a recorded case of two brothers who were killed a year apart on the same street, each at age 17, each while riding the same bike, each run over by the same cab driver, carrying the same passenger—but they don’t happen frequently enough for us to seriously consider them as exculpatory evidence. If something that insanely freakish implicates you, you’re just screwed, really.

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21 Responses to Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!

  • You may have heard of Sir Patrick Hastings. He was one of the greatest lawyers in Britain in the twentieth century, and especially famous as a cross-examiner. In his memoirs, he tells the following story: Once, a client came to him and started by saying, you are not going to believe a word I say. And he proceeded to tell a tale of misfortune and villainy (by his former business partner and plaintiff in the case) so incredible that Hastings, indeed, could not believe it. But he went to court and did his best for his client anyway. And so it happened that, cross-questioning the plaintiff, he noticed a tiny, tiny contradiction. He became interested. He started hammering at it. Bit by bit the truth was forced out of the unwilling plaintiff. Hastings’ unbelievable client had told him the exact truth.

  • Donald R McClarey wrote

    “although there is, and should be, a vast difference between actual guilt, and what the State has to prove at trial to obtain a conviction”

    My favourite example of this is a case we had here in Scotland, namely Creasey v Creasey [1931 S.C. 9.]

    This was, in fact, a civil action. Mr Creasey raised an action for divorce against his wife, on the grounds of her adultery with a co-defender, against whom he concluded for expenses. At that time, the criminal standard of proof obtained in consistorial cases, proof beyond reasonable doubt and on corroborated evidence.

    At the proof, the evidence led against the defender consisted of certain extra-judicial admissions, corroborated by evidence of clandestine association. On this, the Lord Ordinary found that the defender had committed adultery with the co-defender. However, there was no evidence that the co-defender had authorised or adopted the defender’s admissions: as against him, they were mere hearsay. Moreover, the evidence of clandestine association was uncorroborated and, in any event, insufficient, on its own, to prove adultery. Accordingly, the Lord Ordinary could not be satisfied that the co-defender had committed adultery with the defender and he assoilzied him from the action and decerned for his expenses against the pursuer.

    On appeal, the Inner House adhered.

  • I had a similar case Fabio. Unfortunately in that case the Judge accepted the testimony of the witness who perjured himself. The case did not involve serious consequences for my client, but it rankled. Years later I represented the witness in another matter and he told me that he had lied. Although there was nothing that could be done about it at that late date, I did advise the Judge off the record, not mentioning the names of the parties. He said that he truly wished that along with a black robe they gave new judges mind reading ability or the charism of peering into the souls of men!

  • Another reason I stay away from legal dramas, whther TV or film. It’s just so unrealistic how often key evidence falls into place, the right witness shows up at thelast second, not to mention the total shenanigans that lawyers get away with in court that in the real court would land you in the clink before you could say hearsay. Besides, after dealing with the law world all day, the last thing I want to do is come home and watch it on TV.

    I’ve often wondered if medical professionals/law enforcement feel the same way about medical /law enforcement dramas.

  • c matt: Regarding realism, my husband is a fireman, and he won’t even watch movies on that subject because they are so unrealistic. “Backdraft”, to firefighters, is best viewed as a comedy, not a drama.

    I think it’s interesting that Henry Fonda appeared in Angry Men AND Grapes of Wrath–another “drama” that purported to tell a “larger truth about the system,” but which was just propaganda.

    Which makes it not at all surprising that Jane’s political views were so far left.

  • Seeing this film again many years after its release, it struck me as another sanctimonious and pretentious Henry Fonda performance. Sadly, it is used in many schools to teach “justice’. We are close to the point where it is hard to find someone guilty because of either obfuscation (the OJ defense) or pleading mitigating circumstances. This doesn’t even cover instances where prosecutors drop the case deciding that the evidence, though overwhelming, is not sufficient to gain a conviction. I saw this on my stint on the State medical board. It was demonstrated most outrageously in the Black Panther case. It also doesn’t cover where the adjudication of the obviously guilty is inexplicably delayed and drops off the radar as in the Fort Hood case.
    One legal drama that I cover in my book Christians in the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners is the profane , violent, and manipulative “Primal Fear” which makes a travesty of the legal system and trashes the Catholic Church to boot.

  • “it struck me as another sanctimonious and pretentious Henry Fonda performance. ”

    Fonda did tend to lean towards those roles, especially as he got older. Two of my favorite Henry Fonda films were from his early career, Young Mr. Lincoln and Drums Along the Mohawk.

  • My favorite movie (sadly NOT included in the recent “greatest movies” list) is Once Upon a Time in the West, the only time I know of that Fonda played a bad guy.

    As for 12 Angry Men — where was The Kid’s defense counsel? He should have made all the points Fonda did.

    To D’Angelo, I’d say, why ruin a perfectly good movie? Besides, a lot of Fonda’s points are valid. We can throw out the neighbor and the guy down the hall and especially the woman across the street. Eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable but juries put more stock in them than almost any other evidence.
    No alibi? No naming the movie? Meh, bad but not enough to convict.
    The knife. When I was a kid we all had jackknives or folding Buck knives. So if switchblades we standard gear in The Kids neighborhood, not conclusive.

    Of course, nowadays the DA might offer The Kid life with possibility of parole (or even manslaughter) if he’d plead — unless he could offer “truthful testimony” wink, wink against somebody else he wants to nail.
    Maybe you can explain how offering something of value (a shorter sentence or no sentence at all) =/= subornation.

  • I have not seen the above movie. So, herewith are my thoughts on it: “beyond a reasonable doubt”. God knows who committed the murder. The murderer knows who committed the murder. Before I go any further, let me say that crimes of passion are not considered capital one murder, deserving the death penalty. Passion is the wrong word as hatred, jealousy, anger, and the like is not a passion but a vice and addiction to the vice precludes aforethought. Capital one homicide consist in planning, (afore thought), plotting and executing the crime in cold blood. Everything else may be murder I or II or even manslaughter. Two witnesses establish a judicial fact. A preponderance of credible evidence is only admissible in a civil trial, where one’s life is not in the balance. Nevermind that the witness had eyeglass marks on her nose, the fact that the witness needed eyeglasses was an indictment of her ability to see and witness. There were no witnesses to the deed and also in the Simpson trial, and two witnesses are required to indict a capital one murderer to the death penalty. “beyond a reasonable doubt” was not established. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is not established in the capital one death penalty of 54 million unborn constitutional posterity.

  • Juries are quite unfathomable. I recall a case once, where a jeweller was accused of resetting a large number of items of jewellery, part of the proceeds of a number of thefts.

    After some three hours of deliberation, the jury announced a verdict (by a majority) of guilty of resetting “some of the items libelled” Naturally, the judge asked them to specify which items. It then transpired that five of them thought he had resetted the proceeds of one theft, four that he had restted the proceeds of another and so on. There was no single item on which eight of the fifteen were agreed that he had resetted it, but at least eight of them thought he had resetted at least one of them. That is how they had arrived at their majority.

    After more directions and a further hour’s deliberation, they ended up acquitting him.

  • Opps Murder I is capital punisment

  • “Maybe you can explain how offering something of value (a shorter sentence or no sentence at all) =/= subornation.”

    Because they are almost always guilty as sin. They are merely admitting a crime they have in fact committed. No judge will accept a plea bargain if the Defendant continues to assert his innocence, and I have seen plea bargains rejected because the Defendant makes an assertion of his innocence at the last moment. ( And no, in the case I recall the Defendant was not in fact innocent of the offense, his assertion to the contrary notwithstanding.)

    Some Defendants are innocent. I recently convinced the State’s Attorney in my county to nolle prosse a prosecution against a client who I established was not guilty of the offense charged. However such a case is rare enough that each one stands out among the hundreds of criminal defenses I have been involved in.

  • Basic law question for you, Don, from somebody who has never talked with a lawyer except at parish men’s club meetings: Does nolle prosse invoke double jeopardy?

  • Mary de Voe

    The maxim of the Civil Law is “Testis unus testis nullus” – One witness is no witness.

    So, if a man confesses to theft, that is not sufficient to convict; but if he says where he hid the goods and they are found there, then the confession and the finding are two independent sources of evidence and that makes a sufficient proof, even if only one witness hears the confession and only one finds the goods.

    I remember, before we had divorce by consent, we had “hotel cases,” where husband would spend the night in an hotel with a “woman to the pursuer unknown.” The chambermaid would testify that she brought the guilty pair their early morning tea. She would be shown a photo of the defender and would identify him as the man. The wife (who always wore deep mourning, with a hat and gloves), would then stand up and lift her veil and the witness would swear she was not the woman. She would then be corroborated by the receptionist, who had signed them in. He would produce the register and he, too, would be shown the defender’s photo, testifying that this was the man and the wife was not the woman. It was still thought prudent to produce the cheque, with which the husband had paid for the room. The marriage, by the by, was deemed sufficiently proved by the wife’s oath and her production of her marriage lines.

    For some reason, Gleneagles – a five star hotel in Perthshire, with an excellent golf course, was the preferred locus for these little pantomimes. I remember four such cases calling in a morning at the Court of Session and the same receptionist was a witness in three of them. I wonder if they had an arrangement with the listing office to have the cases heard together in batches, to avoid disrupting their staff schedule.

  • “Because they are almost always guilty as sin. They are merely admitting a crime they have in fact committed. No judge will accept a plea bargain if the Defendant continues to assert his innocence”

    I don’t doubt it.
    I was referring to defendants who get shorter sentences in return for testimony against others.

  • “I was referring to defendants who get shorter sentences in return for testimony against others.”

    Ah, the classic Jail House Snitch. I, and many of my brethren and sistren of the defense bar, do tend to think that often involves perjury. There have been prosecutions of prosecutors when they have clearly crossed the line but probably not enough. I like one local judge who will tell juries that they may believe a Jail House Snitch if they wish, but that invariably those individuals have a strong motivation to testify favorably for the prosecution and that jurors should consider that when determining the credence to give their testimony.

  • “Does nolle prosse invoke double jeopardy?”

    No, it is merely a statement to the court that the prosecutor has decided not to move forward with a prosecution at this time and wishes to dismiss it. No jeopardy attaches.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    The maxim of the Civil Law is “Testis unus testis nullus” – One witness is no witness.
    Thank you Michael Paterson-Seymour. My knowledge of the law comes from Moses in Sacred Scripture. Jesus too, had much to say about Justice.

  • Mary de Voe

    There is a fascinating work, the Collatio legum mosaicarum et romanarum [Comparison of the Mosaic and Roman laws] written some time between 294 and 313 AD, at Rome, almost certainly by a Jewish author.

    It draws out the similarities between the two codes, not only in their general principles, but in detail.

    There is really only one area in which the author stresses the superiority of the Mosaic law – God has not only given the poor the power to gather grapes in the vineyards and to glean in the fields and to take away whole sheaves but has also granted to every passer-by without distinction the freedom to enter as often as he likes the vineyard of another person and to eat as many grapes as he wants, in spite of the owner of the vineyard. This “preference for the poor” has led some scholars, such as Girard and Raabello to suggest Christian authorship, or, perhaps, interpolation.

  • “If you ever have an opportunity, sit in on a criminal jury trial.”

    I’ve done that twice, both in the course of journalistic duties. One was a murder trial involving a man who had stabbed his ex girlfriend to death during an argument; the other involved a local public official accused of embezzling public funds (via credit card) to patronize a local gambling boat. Both cases ended with guilty verdicts; the murderer got 45 years in prison with no parole and the official got 30 months probation. Neither case was anywhere near as dramatic as what you see on TV or in the movies; they were just depressing, really.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    There is a fascinating work, the collatio legum mosaicarum et romanarum [Comparison of the Mosaic and Roman laws] written some time between 294 and 313 AD, at Rome, almost certainly by a Jewish author.

    This sounds very interesting and I will try to find the work. I am also fascinated by the comparison of the prophet Isaiah and our U.S. Constitution, sometimes using different words and saying the same thing. Most fascinating. Thank you for your kindness, Michael Paterson-Seymour.

The Fugitive (1947)

Tuesday, June 5, AD 2012

A Fugitive: I have a question, Lieutenant. When did you lose your faith?

 A Lieutenant of Police: When I found a better one.

The film For Greater Glory has reminded me of director John Ford’s forgotten The Fugitive (1947).  Very loosely based on Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory (no priest in an American film in 1947 was going to have the moral failings of Greene’s whiskey priest) the film did poorly at the box office and soon fell into oblivion, except among film critics who regard it as one of Ford’s more interesting works.  Ford said it was  his favorite film.

The film is set in a nameless country, obviously Mexico where the movie was filmed, where religion has been abolished by the government.  Henry Fonda is the last priest hunted by a police lieutenant, played maniacally by Pedro Armendáriz.  Armendariz is a whole-hearted convert to atheism, and views the capture of Fonda as a noble task.  

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7 Responses to The Fugitive (1947)

  • Yeah, this is the film I meant! It’s got some gorgeous, gorgeous scenes in it.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen the beginning of the movie, though, because TCM was always airing it at weird times.

  • “All in all, an interesting film. However, I wish Ford’s main leading man, John Wayne, had been cast in the role of the fugitive priest. While he is on the run he rounds up a hard riding band of Cristeros. In the climactic fight scene he leads the Cristeros in liberating the village, taking out the police lieutenant in a mano a mano epic fight, and ends the film saying mass for the newly liberated villagers! Whatever the critics might have said in after years about the film, I guarantee it would have been a smash hit at the box office!”

    Yea, Donald, and I wish that Mel Gibson would have had the lead in The Passion and led the apostles and his followers in a violent revolt against the Romans like in Braveheart and instead of being captured and killed at the end he would have cut off all their heads like he and Homer Simpson cut off the heads of all the other senators when they remade Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

    With all your militaristic ramblings Donald . . . do you get the point of the Gospels.

  • Glinda, how long have you suffered the dreadful malady of being humor impaired, and have you sought treatment for this grave affliction?

  • Glinda,

    What you write about what happened during Christ’s first coming is absolutely correct. Below is what is going to happen when He comes again, and it is going to make the Cristeros’ rebellion against an evil and vicious atheist dictator look like a child’s game of Cowboys and Indians. Buckle up, “baby”, because the wrath of God is going to come. He will not indefinitely tolerate baby murdering to the tune of 1 million per year in this country, and the heretical nuns who give assent and approval for the same. His justice is the other side of the coin whose head is love; and He loves babies, He loves His Church, He loves righteousness and holiness.

    11 Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 12 His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. 13 He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. 15 Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:


    17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, “Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, 18 that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great.”

    19 And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. 20 Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. 21 And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.

    Revelation 19:11-21 [ Did you read that, Glinda? – it’s agonna be horrible because that’s what sin does. ]

  • Mr. McClarey, thanks for the heads-up. I’d never heard of this film before,
    and I’ll be sure to check it out.

  • I think you will enjoy it Clinton. It is a film that is worthy of careful examination since, at least in my case, there are nuances that flew right by me the first few times I watched it.