Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Here are a few tidbits, some of them possibly surprising, from a law enforcement session I attended at the mystery convention in Manhattan, Kansas, over the weekend.

* In a county with a very small population, there's not enough money for more than one big trial a year, if there's even money for that. It you want to commit a murder, do it in a poor, under-populated county where the quality of investigation is likely to be lower, and where they've already spent their budget for the year!

* "TV has made prosecutions so much harder," said a district attorney. Juries want DNA evidence, they want 3D diagrams, they want more than "beyond a reasonable doubt."

* A public defender said, "In 20 years as a criminal attorney, I've had two cases with viable fingerprints."

* "A lot of times, a suspect in the middle of a polygraph test will cough it up."

* "There's no such thing as temporary insanity," claimed the psychologist on the panel.

* "It's hard for juries to acquit if you can't give them the 'real' bad guy," said the public defender. "You can't win just by punching a hole in the state's case. You got to give them another suspect."

* It's not true that serial killers keep the same M.O. throughout their "careers." They change. "For one thing," said one of the lawmen, "they read the newspapers." For another, if they are mentally ill, they will deteriorate and become less and less stable.

* "The guy better take the stand and say under oath, 'I didn't do it.'" (Juries assume guilt otherwise, no matter what the law says about how they're "supposed" to think about it.)

* Most cases are circumstantial. If they're not, they don't go to trial. (Plea bargain, instead.)

* Interestingly, both the public defender and the district attorney were opposed to capital punishment.

See you in the comments. . .


Nancy P said...

Easy post, cause I just typed up some of my notes.

See you tomorrow!

GhostFolk.com said...

Kelly: "the only useful thing I've learned about blogging so far is that my natural length is way too long for a blog post, so I've been teaching myself to break things down into multiple posts."

I think I need to nail at least one of my hands to the wall when I blog. My first posting to my own blog looked like 82 pages when I got it up.

Since then, I cut it way back. I don't really know what to do with a blog. I am a born Chatty Cathy.

Katiebird, Beth, and Nancy, thanks for visiting the site(s). If I do anything to embarrass myself, please let me know. Here we call it, "showing your ass."

Oh, and that's something you don't want to be doing. :-)

Nancy, your info gave me a title for somebody else's book: A County For Killing.

Anonymous said...

Great comments, Nancy! And I bet VERY useful to mystery writers. Look at ghost, he's already got a title...now all he needs is the story. :-)

"nail at least one of my hands to the wall" - too funny. You see how long mine are - there has to be a happy medium that doesn't involve hand-nailing...

GhostFolk.com said...

"Nail at least one of my hands to the wall" - too funny.

Well, Beth, I've been trying to get the other hand nailed up there too. [Punchline:] But for that I need a wife.

Nancy P said...

Yeah, it doesn't take all that many words--I've learned--for a post to be too long. Pithy is good. Which why I'm a devotee of Atrios' political blog. He is king of pith.

Mornin', Beth.
Great title,Ghost. And hey, ARE there any posts on your blog right now? I didn't see any yesterday.

Nancy P said...

Found one! A Ghost post appeared today in ghostly fashion. I'll get your blog right up on my blogroll. And for those who look for his blog link on his website, it's under "Detailed Encounters."

Family Man said...

Good morning Nancy and everyone.

That's pretty interesting all the info you picked up from the convention. The one that got me was

* Most cases are circumstantial. If they're not, they don't go to trial. (Plea bargain, instead.)

That's kind of scary to me.

Hope everyone has a good day, and that everyone's writing comes easily today.

Kelly McCullough said...

Howdy, honey in the tea this morning. Still a little light headed, but trying to focus because I've got an interview in a bit.

Ghostfolk, right there with you. I'm a novelist by nature and it took me forever to figure out how to do short stories. I'm glad I did it, but ugh. And blog posts are an even shorter form. I find the hardest thing is getting both flavor and content in one post, so I do a lot of three part series with most of the flavor in the first, most of the discursion in the second and lists in the third.

FARfetched said...

I'm slow on the uptake sometimes: it took a second or two for me to get what this had to do with a writing convention. DUHHHHH ← me. :-) There's a lot of good info in there, stuff I didn't know about even though my mom worked for a circuit judge & a federal judge. (BTW, I loved the "CSI" reference in VoSP. Mrs. Fetched is a fan.)

Ghost, just write and don't worry about it — devote as few or as many words as needed (no more, and no less) to a post. I meant to get over to your place last night & have a look at your new blog, but got into a writing jag of my own (and that in turn kept me from writing my own blog post).

For my own blogging, I try to follow two rules: stick to one topic (when the topic is "potpourri," each of the topics should be one paragraph max) and tie it all up with an ending comment. And don't forget: practice practice practice. I think any new blog is going to be a little rough around the edges; it takes a while to get going.

When I was a kid trying to write stories, the title always came first and I was surprised to learn that for many writers, it comes last....

FARfetched said...

The secret to brevity: write haiku. If you can describe a scene with 17 syllables, you're all set.

GhostFolk.com said...

Great tactic, Far, on the haiku approach to concision (is that a word?)!

Thanks for ALL the blog tips. My goal now is not to post every day. Except with the buds at Nancy's blog. :-) I probably should do something more interactive, but I have the idea of doing an archive instead of a conversation.

This is likely a mistake. In which case, I may move it all to the web page.

Here's a trick I use sometimes to keep myself on my toes when writing. I forget it most of the time, but when I remember it, it works for me.

Instead of describing what is there (in a scene) or what is going on (in a scene), try noting what isn't present or what isn't happening. It can be a nice little switch and sometimes just as telling.

Ex.: There were no birds in the yard. Or: No one said a word.

Rick Bylina said...


Thanks for linking me
and the great conference notes
they change my story

Man dies in mulch pile
my hero believes truth floats
bags bad guy with guile


Poetry can be
Much harder for me to write
Than prose on a flee

GhostFolk.com said...

Fun post, Rick!

Where I live, though, "guile" is three syllables. :-)

Or maybe seven.

Kimberly Frost said...

Nancy -

Hope you have a great day writing today!

I've set some goals for the week, and I'm off and running. Now I just need a little coffee to jumpstart a second wind...

AndiF said...

Nancy, nice interview and article about Sisters in Crime.

Ed Gorman said...

I suppose it's generally good advice for the person on trial to take the stand and claim innocence...but Oj and Phil Spector and Manson?

Nancy P said...

Ed! How lovely to see you, and what an amusing thing to say. Yes, I think you have hit upon some exceptions. . .

I was really surprised by the PD's claim that he had seen only two cases with viable fingerprints in all those years.

boran2 said...

Hi all. Fascinating tidbits, Nancy. I do civil work so I seldom hear these kinds of things.

Nancy P said...

Evenin', B2. There were certainly bits that surprised me.