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March|April 2006
Finders Keepers? Christopher Heaney
Shanghaied Sasha Issenberg
Bigger Is Better Paul Wachter
Jack of All Plants Daniel Kurtz-Phelan
The Vigilante in the Kitchen Josh Rosenblum
Cases & Controversies
The Prudent Jurist William H. Simon
Roma v. Romania Doug Merlino
Off the Res Ellen Thompson

Cases & Controversies

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO. . .

WHEN KELLY SIEGLER, A COUNTY PROSECUTOR IN EAST TEXAS, wanted to explain to jurors how she thought Susan Wright had murdered her husband, she opted to show rather than tell. So the prosecutor brought the scene of the crime—a blood-stained bed and mattress—into a Houston courtroom. She tied down a fellow prosecutor about the victim's size with a pair of neckties and a bathroom sash and, while straddling him, pretended to stab him just as she contended Wright had committed the murder. Siegler acted out how Wright could have used the promise of sex to persuade her husband to be bound, before she stabbed him nearly 200 times.

Wright admitted to the stabbings, but said she had acted in self-defense—not to collect a $200,000 insurance policy, as Siegler charged. Wright's lawyers, it's no surprise, objected to Siegler's dramatization, arguing that it was based on a speculative interpretation of events. The dead man's body, for example, wasn't found tied to the bed; the family dog dug it up in the backyard five days after the homicide. Still, Wright was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

In a ruling that could turn more Texas lawyers into thespians, an appeals court upheld that verdict. The court concluded that reenactments are just fine as long as they are based on evidence found at the crime scene.

TRY, TRY AGAIN

WHEN HIS GIRLFRIEND TURNED UP DEAD IN TEESSIDE, England, in 1989, Billy Dunlop was fingered for murder. Two years later, a judge declared him not guilty after juries in two separate trials failed to reach verdicts. Nearly a decade later, while he was in jail for attacking a different girlfriend, Dunlop confessed to the murder. His prior acquittal meant that he couldn't be tried for murder under rules barring "double jeopardy."

The concept of double jeopardy grew out of a 12th-century dispute between King Henry II and Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who argued that clergy convicted in church courts shouldn't have to stand trial again in the king's court. Henry II had Becket killed, but later agreed that a defendant shouldn't be tried twice for the same crime. The prohibition became a fixture of Anglo-American common law. Last year, however, a sweeping crime bill aimed at getting tough on criminals scuttled double jeopardy in England.

Now, if "new and compelling" evidence is presented, the Court of Appeal can order a retrial. Taking advantage of the new law, the country's director of public prosecutions urged a new trial in light of Dunlop's confession. The court is considering whether to grant the request.

LOOK WHO'S SUING

LISA REWEGA WAS DRIVING TO CHURCH IN ALBERTA, Canada, five years ago when she hit a patch of black ice and spun out of control. She was tossed from the rolling car, breaking her neck and pelvis. She was five months pregnant at the time and the crash also injured her unborn daughter, Brooklyn, who was born blind and with severe brain damage. Had Brooklyn, now four years old, been riding as a passenger, the costly health care she requires would have been covered by the Rewegas' auto insurance carrier. But the insurance company was off the hook: at the time of the accident, mothers couldn't be held responsible under Canadian law for damage that occurs in the womb.

Last December, Alberta enacted legislation to allow children to sue their mothers for accidents that occurred when they were still in the womb. The law is the first of its kind in Canada, and it allowed Brooklyn to file suit against her mother, who welcomed the suit because she wants her insurance provider to pick up Brooklyn's bills. The new law is narrowly tailored to allow a suit only when a mother is at fault in a wreck. But pro-choice activists worry that giving fetuses the right to sue could lead to suits against women who smoke, drink, or use drugs while pregnant.

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