Thursday, January 27, 2005

Lee Romney's Article on Charles Rothenberg In LAT Shows Shortcomings of Justice System

Lee Romney's front-page L.A. Times article Jan. 26 on Charles Rothenberg, the man who set his six-year-old son on fire in 1983 and then served just seven years for the horrible crime is shocking throughout.

It turns out that under a variety of aliases, Rothenberg has continued to commit a large variety of crimes and now is soon to be on trial on weapons and fraud charges that could send him to prison for a long, long time under the state's three-strike law.

But the most shocking thing in Romney's article is reserved for the last two paragraphs when she reports that the jury hearing the case won't be told who Rothenberg is, or even that this is a third strike case. "In fact," she concludes, "the only jurors who will be seated on the panel are those who say that the names Charley Charles, Charles Bocca (two of the names Rothenberg has used) and Charles Rothenberg do not ring a bell."

I've been present as a reporter in other cases when the jurors were kept in the dark about the background of a criminal, only to find out later to their horror that they would have acted differently in reaching a verdict had they known the whole truth. I remember one juror who burst into tears when he heard the facts, well after the trial.

It's why I've believed for a long time that serving on a jury is a sin. It's a sin of complicity with a justice system that all too often is a foul conspiracy against the public interest.

The way such trials are conducted is a conspiracy between judges and defense attorneys to keep jurors in the dark.

So when I've been called as a juror, I delay it as long as possible and then answer any questions about prejudices, etc. in such a way as to insure that I'm never actually selected as a juror. I never have been. In fact, I left Harvard Law School in 1962 after four months there when I concluded that the system was corrupt.

The newspapers, with all their faults, are still far more honest than the courts. I cannot believe that reporters like Lee Romney would ever have let Charles Rothenberg serve only seven years for the permanently disfiguring mutilation of his son or would keep the jury now from knowing who it was dealing with.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was a juror on the Rothenberg attempted murder trial a few years back. We went not guilty in the end although it was an awful experience. Very sympathetic victim and really horrible defense attorney. But in the end, there just wasn't enough evidence to convict. The only witness was the victim -- a man who'd been shot in the head and therefore had shaky and inconsistent memories.

When I found out Rothenberg's identity, I was shocked to discover that they'd kept such a significant piece of data from us.

That said, in that particular case, had we known who he was, it might have actually helped the defense more than the prosecution.

The crux of the defense's case was that Rothenberg had been set up by the police. To me, that seemed a stretch. There was no motive. He seemed to be just a sad local waiter. Why set up him? When I found out who he was (the day of the verdict) it struck me that at least it now made some sense that the police would have tilted against him, given his horrible crime.

Anyway, I think you're right in your main point -- that it's insane to keep such a key fact from the jury. Just wanted to share the odd reality that in a previous Rothenberg case, knowing his past might have actually helped his case. The bottom-line is, which way side it helps, justice requires knowledge. And in our case at least, past crimes would have certainly be pertinent.

2/08/2005 10:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

er... one footnote: "which way side it helps" in the previous comment translates loosely to "whichever side it helps" in english....

2/08/2005 10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

argh -- that's "been" not "be" in the last paragraph.
OK, enough after-the-fact typo-fixing. Any other errors in my comment, I'll just make a global "whoops" for....

2/08/2005 3:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my question is simple. even if we could rehabilitate Rothenberg, why should we? what about punishment? would you pay out of pocket to attempt to rehabilitate a monster like that? i don't think so. I say light him on fire and watch him burn. while we're at it, let's show all of the other monsters who would harm children what we have in store for them too. I guess I'm just too simple for such high ideals as our "justice" system.

10/21/2006 1:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the last post - these kind of people deserve the absolute worst punishment for hurting children-period.

4/05/2007 6:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, in principal, with the idea that such a monster is beyond the benefit of rehabilitation. Unfortunately, our justice system is not condusive to a case by case evaluation in regards to a criminal's right to rehabilitation. Our Constitution, our courts, our prison system and out parole system all pride themselves on the notion that a wrongdoer is entitled to a second chance once he or she's debt to society has been paid. Charles Rothenberg's debt was relatively small when considering the torture he inflicted on his son, and he deserves to be lit on fire himself for doing it. But be careful what you wish for. Our justice system has a lot of inherent evils that exist in accordance with what is considered the 'fairest' imperfect system in the world. If you light Charles Rothenberg on fire, you dismiss the notion of rehabilitation across the board, even though you believe that you are acting in regards to an extreme case. And remember something... if one day you slip up and find yourself in prison, you will want your shot at redemption, while others will believe that you should be cast aside and maybe even destroyed.

2/05/2008 6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was just 5 years old at the time this happened but i still have the movie and I think since he only served 7 out of 13 years for it each time he is on trail for something new the court should be able to say what this a-- did back in '83 to his only son.

8/26/2008 6:17 PM  
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