Opinions must hinge on evidence, not hunches

June 17, 2000|By Gregory Kane


If you're of the baby boomer generation, think of it as the secret word on the timeless Groucho Marx television show "You Bet Your Life." If you're younger, think of it as the final answer to a "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" question that asks, "What does a jury need in a trial in order to convict?"

Evidence. Not hunches, surmises, intuition, gut feelings (which, along with 50 cents, won't even buy you a Big Mac), guesses or quantum leaps of logic. It's best we understand that before we examine the verdict against Daniel Starkey, the Eastern Shore lad (white) convicted Thursday of second-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder in the shooting death of Germaine Clarkston (black). She was mortally shot in Chestertown on Dec. 4, while heading home with two companions after Christmas shopping.

Kent County prosecutors say Starkey's older brother, David Starkey, fired a shotgun into Clarkston's car after his brother followed her for 20 miles, shooting her as she drove along a highway. Dan's defense lawyers said their client was only the driver and didn't know his brother intended to shoot Clarkston.

The jury decided he was more culpable than that. What it didn't decide is whether Dan Starkey is guilty of a hate crime. Kent County Circuit Court Judge J. Fredrick Price threw that charge out Wednesday, citing a lack of evidence.

Such did not prevent some blacks from howling foul, that they simply know this was a hate crime. They just know it.

Such knowledge does not constitute evidence. For Dan Starkey to be convicted of a "hate crime" - which is at best a questionable offense passed by the horde of liberal Democrats who run amok in Maryland - there has to be evidence that Clarkston was shot because she was black. That evidence must come from an eyewitness account - someone heard either brother say Clarkston was shot because of her race - or a confession. Absent these two pieces, Price had to throw the charge out. We simply can't conclude a hate crime occurred because the Starkeys are white and Clarkston was black.

Let's turn this around a bit. Last week, Eugene Colvin-el had his death sentence commuted to life in prison. If we use the logic of those clamoring for Dan Starkey to be convicted of a hate crime - as if a first-degree-murder conviction weren't enough - Colvin-el should have been charged with a hate crime because he was black and his victim Lena Buckman, was white. But this awful, gratuitous legislation known as the "hate crime law" didn't exist in 1980, when Buckman was killed.

This week saw the acquittals of Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, co-defendants in what was the Ray Lewis trial before he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and testified for prosecutors. "They got off absolutely free of killing somebody," a caller said in a voice mail message. "I'd like to know who killed these guys. I think it was somebody in the limousine."

Let's not forget the word of the day. Defense attorneys contended from the start of the trial that the EVIDENCE did not show anything like the felony murder all three defendants were charged with had occurred. The best the prosecution could have - and should have - hoped for was a manslaughter conviction. What they got was eyewitness testimony - that's evidence, folks, a judge will tell every jury - so conflicting and confusing and some of which indicated that Oakley and Sweeting acted in self-defense. The jury had no choice but to acquit. Fulton County prosecutors, you see, failed to prove their case based on the EVIDENCE.

Some blacks who were overjoyed by the verdict in the Atlanta case are the same ones who want Dan Starkey convicted of a hate crime on the flimsiest of evidence. Some whites still pronounce Lewis, Oakley and Sweeting guilty of murder in spite of prosecutors' pathetic evidence against them.

I'm going to make one last desperate appeal for sanity on this race issue. I probably won't get it, but I can at least ask. In the matter of jury trials, can we all agree that jurors should drop any racial prejudices, hang-ups and misconceptions at the courthouse door and try cases based on - what's the word again? - EVIDENCE?

Those blacks who want Dan Starkey convicted of a hate crime will, without a doubt, be nowhere in sight when another Eastern Shore trial begins. In September, a white woman named Yvonne Fountain was stomped to death by three black men in Cambridge. The trial of DeAndre Stanton, who's been charged in Fountain's slaying, was slated to begin Tuesday. It's been postponed. No new date has been set. But all those who screamed "hate crime" when Dan Starkey went to trial should have front row seats at Stanton's and should be heard screaming the same thing. After all, the EVIDENCE of hate crime in both cases is about the same.

You've heard little about the case, especially from blacks who eagerly awaited Dan Starkey's conviction on a hate crime charge. None of Fountain's alleged murderers has been charged with a hate crime.

You could call that an oversight on the part of Dorchester County prosecutors. Or you might conclude that prosecutors knew there was no EVIDENCE that Fountain's murder was a hate crime.

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