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Friday, May 6, 2016

A rush to judgment

Friday, January 28, 2011

Evil came to McCook a week ago today with the brutal murder of Kailee Clapp, a 14-year-old 9th grade girl at McCook High School. Arrested the same day and arraigned yesterday on four different felony charges relating to Clapp's death was 18-year-old Stathis Kirkpatrick, originally from Las Cruces, New Mexico, who was unemployed and living in Bartley, Nebraska at the time the crimes were committed.

I was the first one in the small county courtroom at the Red Willow county courthouse yesterday morning, taking my seat at 10:30, a full hour before the arraignment was to begin. The small room quickly filled up and by 11 a.m., the courthouse was closed. Just a couple of minutes after the scheduled start time, the defendant was brought in, surrounded by a phalanx of county and city police officers, and he quietly listened as his rights were recited to him by the judge and the charges were addressed by the prosecutor.

It appears to be an open and shut case and therein lies the rub. As a former police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma and a sociology and criminal justice instructor at McCook Community College for the past 16 years, that's the thing that bothers me. Kirkpatrick is guilty as sin in the minds of most area residents, as well as the media and a whole cadre of Facebook postings. Guilty before few facts are known at all, except for the rumors that always spread like wildfire in an explosive case like this.

In this country, we have a presumption of innocence in our legal system. In other words, every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. That burden lies squarely with the prosecutor who must prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did, in fact, commit the crimes he's charged with. In fact, this presumption of innocence is so strong that the defense is not required to present one witness or one piece of evidence to the contrary.

So far, NO evidence and no testimony have been presented. The police department has issued very little information to the public in order to protect their case against the defendant and that is sound police policy. A preliminary hearing will be held at 9 a.m. on Feb. 11 to determine if the prosecution has enough evidence against the accused to proceed to trial.

The people who attended the arraignment on Thursday were well behaved as is the tradition for folks in this part of the country. Although the judge announced that anyone causing a disruption would be escorted out of the courtroom by law enforcement personnel, there were no disruptions of any kind. But the talk outside the courthouse as the arraignment ended was filled with anger, bitterness, and an absolute conviction that the accused did, in fact, commit the crimes he's charged with.

But it's my hope that we will let the hands of justice do what it has been doing since this country was founded. If enough evidence is presented at the preliminary hearing to bind Kirkpatrick over for trial, then a jury will be seated and Paul Woods, the prosecutor, can then present all of the evidence and testimony he's collected against the defendant. If he IS convicted, then he should certainly receive the maximum penalty allowed by law for this horrendous crime.

But that's for a jury to decide after they've heard all of the evidence and testimony and not the court of public opinion.

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Thank you Mike for stating the obvious!!!

-- Posted by CLUELESS SW NE on Fri, Jan 28, 2011, at 1:29 PM

The thing is that a court of law is ruled by the presumption of innocence. A court of public opinion, on the other hand, is ruled by a broad right to free speech.

For example, if you have a crystal clear video of someone committing a crime, they are presumed innocent in a court of law. However, in the court of public opinion, I wouldn't expect people to wait for the trial to finish before rendering their opinion. It's just free speech and the two aren't necessarily at odds with one another, they just have different roles to play in our society. The people who speak with such confidence are just waiting for the courts to confirm what they already believe to be true so that justice can be served.

Too often people believe that nobody should presume guilt but only those involved in rendering a verdict on a suspect are subject to that limitation. Everyone else is free to express themselves, whether their opinions were proven correct or not.

There are times when suspects escape consequences for their actions on technicalities even when it's blatantly obvious that they are guilty. The law says they are innocent but individuals have the freedom to apply common sense to the situation. It's not a perfect system but I still believe it's the best one out there because while some who are guilty of a crime get off on technicalities, there are others who are wrongfully accused who would be serving time for crimes they didn't commit without those protections.

It leads a person to seriously consider a question that gives great insight to their opinion on a complex ethical dilemma. Is it better to have laws and procedures that allow some guilty people to escape punishment in order to prevent punishment for those who are innocent or is it better to allow some innocent people to be punished in order to punish the guilty? If you lean towards the latter I would just suggest you consider that some day you or someone you love may be one of the innocent being punished.

-- Posted by McCook1 on Fri, Jan 28, 2011, at 2:51 PM


What Mccook1 is saying is ....wait till ALL THE FACTS ARE IN before you jump to conclusion.

I personally trust law inforcment to do their job... I know that is not allways the best policy but it is all what we have now!

From the sketchy information (that is NOT rumor) that has been given....the police have to right person in custody......but....some times it dosnt work out that way!


Let the investagators do their job. They are very much a part of your community and they dont want this to go unresolved...they have children too!!!

Be at Peace


-- Posted by kaygee on Fri, Jan 28, 2011, at 5:38 PM

Thank you, Mr. Hendricks, for this reminder of the legal process in this country. We love our own rights to that legal process, but often forget it must be there for all.

The rumor mill runs at nearly the speed of sound in rural America, often bringing more heat than light to the subject.


-- Posted by Boomer62 on Fri, Jan 28, 2011, at 6:41 PM

Its the court of public opinion that gets cases moved to a new area for a fair trial.

-- Posted by npwinder on Sat, Jan 29, 2011, at 10:31 AM

I agree with Mike. I also believe that in a case like this- only half of the rumors will even have a grain of truth in them. I speak from experience-you see ,once a famly member of mine was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Long before he went to court people in the McCoook and surrounding area considered him guilty. All of this was accompanied by the ever so present gossip and telling of "facts" from "someone" who knew "someone", who "knows it true" cause again "someone" said it was.In our case -none of it was true and in fact my family member was the only innocent man in the bunch. I am not saying in this instance that this young man is innocent- I am saying, stop with the spreading of rumors and gossip and and secondhand "facts" because the last thing thing Kailee's family or memory needs is the knowledge that their neighbors and friends, and community would ever participate in rumor or gossip at the expense of her family.

-- Posted by mommily on Sat, Jan 29, 2011, at 4:41 PM

Why was the FBI brought in to help investigate? No one has touched on this at all.

-- Posted by 10c on Sat, Jan 29, 2011, at 6:11 PM

And I will mention, in this particular case I am guilty of rushing to judgement. After reading and learning of the facts that were presented in court this past Thursday, I would like to believe the authorities have this thing wrapped up. Culpability will play a key role at trial, if it gets that far; I believe the defense will use the defendants state of mind as a defense etc. Thoughts?

-- Posted by 10c on Sat, Jan 29, 2011, at 6:14 PM


For their forensic capabilities, particularly with regards to trace evidence - fibers, hairs, etc.- evidence which may not be readily visible to the naked eye, though present.

Small law enforcement agencies simply cannot afford the equipment you see on "CSI". The FBI, on the other hand, can. And part of their mission is to assist state and local law enforcement.

-- Posted by Owen McPhillips on Sun, Jan 30, 2011, at 4:25 PM

I've actually never watched an episode of CSI. I figured the forensic evidence could have at least been handled at the state level?

-- Posted by 10c on Mon, Jan 31, 2011, at 2:28 PM

"So far, NO evidence and no testimony have been presented. The police department has issued very little information to the public in order to protect their case against the defendant and that is sound police policy."

Well that's not really true. They told us about his story of chasing an abductor, to the cemetery, about finding blood on his clothes at the uncle's place, possible blood in the back of his truck, conversations with his girlfriend, etc.

The police have given a lot of info out on this case, that would seem damning. Now, what if they didn't properly Mirandize Kirkpatrick and his statements were ruled inadmissible, and things that came out after wards like the search of his truck were not allowed in court. What if it's determined that his uncle's house was his main residence, and that a warrant was required? Of course this is all just hypothetical, but if these sort of things came out and the evidence was then thrown out of court, and the case against Kirkpatrick was lost or dismissed with prejudice then well, he'd be an apparent innocent man in the eyes of the law, but based on what's been reported he'd be guilty in the eyes of everyone else. How long then before someone took out their retribution on the man then? Because of what's been reported in the media. Innocent or not he'd quite possibly be a dead man on the outside of prison.

So one wonders when information should be reported by the police to the public. If it's allowed in court or not? Is the result that, one gets off on a technicality or, has one been accused unconstitutionally?

-- Posted by johnnysnot on Mon, Jan 31, 2011, at 5:25 PM

Good points and we'll just have to hope that authorities did their jobs correctly. As far as the uncles house is concerned, police said they asked the uncle permission to search the home so a warrant is not necessary. As far as the truck, if officers see blood, in plain sight, as they said they did, then a search would commence in the normal course of law?

-- Posted by 10c on Tue, Feb 1, 2011, at 1:12 PM

So the author posts his blog and doesn't care to comment on the questions or posts following? I have to say as a former police officer and a professor it would be helpful to all to guide them through this troubling time...It's a shame to have a resource such as yourself go mum...or are you still pondering thoughts of Christmas and your ex-wife? What a shame.

-- Posted by 10c on Tue, Mar 1, 2011, at 2:50 AM

I'll stick with shame...it's been seven days and nothing further from the author.

-- Posted by 10c on Tue, Mar 8, 2011, at 2:34 AM

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Mike Hendricks
Mike at Night