Criminal Justice expert Dr. Edward J. Bronson recently analyzed the pre-trial publicity in the Billings Murder case. It was a fascinating look at just the local newspaper coverage. The reason he was called to look at this has to do with the fact that it has become an inarguable fact that press coverage prior to trial impacts jury verdicts. There have been 44 empirical studies with 5500+ people by dozens of social scientists over the last three decades.
The biggest shocker of Dr. Bronson’s analysis was that the Billings Murder case–overall–is the 27th highest publicized case EVER. This case rivals OJ, the Lindbergh baby, Bundy, Zodiac, Son of Sam and Jon Benet Ramsey just for starters. The average high publicity case has around 100 articles written about the case. The PNJ & InWeekly did 250 articles on this case. Each of these articles were biased against the defendants, particularly Pat Gonzalez Jr. Not one of these articles were by anyone close to Gonzalez Jr or who advocated his character in any way, despite his contributions to the community, although the Sertoma club “Man of the Year” award was mentioned in passing as was high martial arts career.
The Michigan Supreme Court ruled to delay a trial by 9 mos because of 1 news comment by an attorney on a Sunday morning at 6 AM. The judge determined the attorney had the potential to have tainted the jury pool with this one appearance. In comparison, Sheriff Morgan held press conferences up to twice a day locally; he spoke on Dateline NBC, Nancy Grace, Oprah Winfrey and Larry King to name a few. He said things like, “extremely gruesome scene”, “hateful, senseless crime” “bad seed” (speaking of Gonzalez Jr.), “stupid thugs” and referred to the Billings as “very good Christian people”. Adding on to the fact, Morgan greeted the Grand Jury panelists prior to the indictments of Gonzalez Sr and Jr. He shook each person’s hand and said things like, “I’ve done my job; now it’s time for you to do yours”. This seems like a directive from the highest law enforcement officer in the community.
The PNJ articles were extremely damaging as they are the only point of printed news in the area. 174 times the death penalty was mentioned in relation to this crime—prior to any trial commencing. This is extremely damning because the implication is that these people deserve death, before the facts of the case or the defenses were laid out.
Dr. Bronson noted that he had never seen more inflammatory comments within the PNJ by the reporters and in letters to the editor prior to trial. There was no possible way a reasonable person could consider that an unbiased jury could be had in this community. Judge Geeker doesn’t think this is an issue but ultimately this will go to the US Supreme Court, who have no ties to Escambia corruption.
Speaking of the Supreme Court, I have been told by Eric Pinkard, Pat Gonzalez’s attorney, that he anticipates a re-sentencing or re-trial within the next 60 days due to the Timothy Hurst Supreme Court decision regarding the death penalty in Florida. We shall see….stay tuned
As for the media circus that propelled Morgan’s career and ultimately kept him in office, here’s the take away: David Morgan whored himself out to every news outlet possible. He was the source of most people’s knowledge of this case. As the community and world has seen with every instance in Morgan’s tenure where he smiles pretty for the camera, he seldom is the most accurate point of information. He stretches the truth and even lies to make himself seem important. Why would it be any different with this case? Good news for all the defendants, because if Pat Gonzalez gets a new trial, the flood gates of motions and lawsuits will dominate what was the old news of this case….with Morgan as the punchline.
Dr. Edward Bronson Expert Testimony exhibit2-expert test.