43 | Antagonists

antagonism/1 Mutual resistance of opposing forces; active opposition, a feeling of hostility or opposition. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

antagonist/2: an agent of physiological antagonism: as a: a muscle that contracts with and limits the action of an agonist with which it is paired – called also antagonistic muscle. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition

One didn’t want to lose and the other was lazy. Bob Sendle, 2014

Cops and DAs are on the same team. For the victim, against the perp—for justice. Sure, they play different roles. Cops investigate; DAs prosecute. DAs have an ethical duty not to take a case to trial without probable cause. But probable cause is anything over 50/50, a far lower burden than the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt required to convict. Good DAs don’t need a slam-dunk to take a case to trial.

Like pumping iron, opposition strengthens a case. DAs and cops are natural opponents. One pounds the pavement, the other a legal pad. Cops aren’t perfect; they, too can rush to judgment. And sloppy police work can doom a case. Approach a witness clumsily or too aggressively and the witness shuts down. Miss a key question and you may not get a second chance. Forget to put it in your notes or report and you or the witness gets torn apart on the stand. But honest mistakes pale beside a DA’s cynicism.

In 1973, lead cop Sendle’s antagonist wasn’t Duane. It was the DA. When I sat down with the twinkly-eyed prosecutor twenty years later, he threw Sendle under the bus all over again.

As Duane’s trial advanced against a headwind of defense motions in 1973, the DA threw more and more ADAs at it. (One later became a judge; another was disbarred.) That fall an ADA gave Duane’s team the fingerprint charts of two kids who’d tried to burglarize a local burger joint called Georgia Boys. Those prints were supposed to be compared to prints the defense investigator claimed he found at Duane’s house. The ADA never got the second set of prints.

The morning Betty was killed, a roofer with a bird’s-eye view had seen a man in Duane’s backyard. The roofer described the man under oath; until Duane’s investigator massaged the description, he looked nothing like either Georgia boy. In fact, he looked like Duane. When the defense complained that Sendle didn’t pursue an eyewitness (presumably the roofer), the DA obliged them by benching his lead cop.

Duane’s alibi morphed into a timeline that defied the laws of physics. He couldn’t explain away the kid who came to his door soon after Betty was killed, but he didn’t need to. The DA did his work for him. At the eve of trial the prosecution dumped the case based on unspecified “new information”. Sendle took it for the team.

Forty years later the old cop had a different take.

The DAs always wanted more, Sendle told me. Every time we went to them they turned us down. If a person didn’t plead guilty or give a written statement they didn’t want anything to do with it. One said he didn’t want a failure. They dropped the case because it was easy for them.

History would repeat itself.

Is not wanting to lose the same as wanting to win?

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