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Criminal Justice

Like Nixon, Obama Has an Opinion on the Guilt of a Suspect

Posted Nov 19, 2009 8:03 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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When President Nixon declared that Charles Manson was guilty of seven California murders, the cult leader sought to use the comment to his advantage. He showed jurors the headline "Manson Guilty, Nixon Declares,” and sought a mistrial.

The ploy didn’t work. Observers say there is also likely to be little impact from a similar statement by President Obama, this time opining on the fate of Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Associated Press reports.

In a television interview, Obama commented on those who were offended by the prospect of Mohammed being tried in a civilian court in New York. Obama said people won’t find it “offensive at all when he's convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him."

Obama went on to say he wasn’t prejudging the case. "I'm not going to be in that courtroom," he said. "That's the job of the prosecutors, the judge and the jury."

Nixon also backtracked from his comment, saying, "The last thing I would do is prejudice the legal rights of any person, in any circumstances.”

Northwestern University law professor and legal ethicist Steven Lubet said any notion that New Yorkers would be prejudiced by the remark is far-fetched, according to the AP story. University of Wisconsin historian Stanley Kutler had a similar reaction.

"This is one of your daily tempests in a teapot," Kutler told AP.

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