When it comes to jury selection, Harris County prosecutors are a notoriously picky lot. They will attempt to strike you from the jury if you are possessed of the “wrong” color skin, opposed to the death penalty or even, famously, a member of freaky-deaky Lakewood Church.
And as local defense attorney Mark Bennett points out on his blog, there’s another even sneakier litmus test.
Bennett says prosecutors love to trot out this question: “If we only present one witness, but based on that witness’s testimony you believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty, can you convict him?”
And then, of course, they attempt with great alacrity to challenge for cause all those who answer “no.”
Bennett believes there are a couple of huge problems with this. Number one, there are quite a few people who adhere to the belief that nobody can or should be convicted on the testimony of one eyewitness.
With good reason. One-witness testimony can be faulty as hell.
Last month, a Brenham man named Tim Cole was exonerated by DNA evidence for a rape he was convicted for in 1985 solely on the basis of the testimony of one eyewitness – the victim of the rape. Years later, another man confessed to the crime, but that wasn’t enough to overturn former Texas Tech student Cole’s conviction, which finally came this year when evidence that had been on hand for over 20 years was finally tested and proved that the other man had committed the crime. Of course, Cole’s exoneration didn’t do him much good. While his exoneration was some comfort to his family. Cole himself died in prison in 1999.
Number two, there is biblical precedent against one-witness testimony.
Though the concept is mentioned in several places in the Old Testament, here is the most iron-clad example -- Deuteronomy 19:15: “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
Later, the concept of two or three witness is affirmed in the New Testament by the Apostles Paul and Peter and even Jesus Christ, in Matthew 18, verses 15 and 16: "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'”
So think about that for a little while. So long as our local “Grand Inquisitors” are allowed to ask this question in jury selection, there is almost no way in Hell Jesus Christ could sit on a jury in Harris County, Texas.
– John Nova Lomax
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