CSI: Boston

One of the best things the O.J. Simpson trial did was introduce the vast majority of Americans to the criminal justice system. One of the worst things the case did was the same thing.

The number of those who watched all or parts of the hundreds of hours of the Simpson trial was astounding and in the ensuing years, television executives have looked to cash in on the thirst of amateur defense attorneys and criminologists by letting loose a bevy of shows from “Law and Order” to “CSI” and all their offshoots.

That, in turn, has given the average John and Jane Q. Public a skewed vision of what it takes to win a criminal conviction – or get someone off. With three of the most high-profile cases in the country underway here in Boston, it seems everyone has an opinion, based mostly on their television viewing habits.

The murder case of former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez is taking shape right before our eyes with the release of the search warrants and affidavits outlining the mountain of evidence investigators are building against the 23-year-old millionaire. But it seems a flock of fantasy football team players are turning into nascent lawyers, pointing to the fact police haven’t found a gun and most of the case appears to be “circumstantial.” This is, however, the real world and noted Boston attorney Harry Manion, who has represented a number of athletes charged with criminal offenses, says people who see it as merely circumstantial are unclear of the concept.

“Think about how easy it is to hide a gun,” Manion said on WEEI. “If that was the case, if you always had to have fingerprints on the murder weapon, we’d have one out of 30 murders convicted and 29 would go free. Look, you’ve got to latch onto something. Every case is circumstantial. All that means is, it’s circumstances surrounding the murder.”

Over at the federal courthouse in South Boston, the long-awaited and sensational trial of mobster James “Whitey” Bulger is holding a lot of people’s attention in this allegedly slow news period. But while Bulger’s guilt is often a given among the general population, there is no shortage of advice for his attorneys, including how much of the testimony is “hearsay.” The fact that it’s pretty powerful hearsay coming directly from one-time cohorts seems to escape a lot of people. That, plus the fact the judge is allowing the testimony in.

Bulger’s trial, though, had to share the limelight in the same building yesterday with alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who made his first public appearance since crawling out of hiding in a Watertown boat. He was arraigned on 30 counts, most of which carry the death penalty. Within the halls of justice, Tsarnaev’s presumption of innocence still rules and his attorneys can, and probably will, argue about mitigating circumstances, perhaps his mental state, to try to lessen the severity of the charges.

But outside the courthouse, a loud contingent of supporters claim Tsarnaev is being set up, either by the American government or other nefarious forces. Some are arguing the case is a matter of so-called “false flag,” an act done by the United States against its own people to try to frame another group or country. Yeah, good luck with running that up the flagpole.

Still other supporters of Tsarnaev say they see no physical evidence that ties him to the bombings, apparently based on their extensive knowledge of the case gleaned from watching repeats of “Bones.”

“I see zero evidence to say he actually did this,” Lacey Buckley, 23, who flew in from Washington state and was one of about a half-dozen young women who wore T-shirts with Tsarnaev’s image, told the Boston Herald. “There is no DNA; there are no fingerprints. They got nothing.”

Buckley and other supporters didn’t say what they thought fingerprints and DNA should be on but that’s a residual effect of watching too many crime shows where investigators nail the perpetrator with a strand of hair he or she carelessly left at the scene of the murder. As we said, though, this is the real world and cases are built on meticulous gathering of information and evidence and defense attorneys are not waiting for that “AHA!” moment, instead trying to punch the smallest of holes in each presentation to create reasonable doubt. They’re not throwing pasta against the wall to see what sticks — then testing it for DNA.

                                                                                                                                                                                   –JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

Gov. Deval Patrick apparently has failed to make friends or influence any Beacon Hill lawmakers on taxes.

Patrick vows his administration will get to the bottom of what’s causing high balances on EBT cards, the Herald reports. Meanwhile, the Herald runs an editorial telling the gov to give back to Republican Rep. Shauna O’Connell of Taunton the $800 she paid for EBT balance records.

State officials propose a commercial food waste ban, requiring companies to donate or reuse any excess food and ship the rest to an animal feed operation or to facilities that convert the food into electricity, the Associated Press reports (via Telegram & Gazette).

The MetroWest Daily News takes aim at the Legislature’s contempt for public opinion: Exhibit A: how lawmakers schedule and conduct public hearings.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A Superior Court judge has ruled lifetime contracts given out in secret in 2006 to eight Dartmouth town administrators by former selectmen are illegal and unenforceable.

Under pressure from local residents, the developer of a former golf course property in Methuen agrees to restrict access to the project’s 140 homes to people 55 or older to avoid impacting the city schools and other services, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The Boston Globe offers up a compelling vision of what the new mayor needs to accomplish to get the city to the next level.

Some New Yorkers are giving up the glitz of the big city life  for Great Barrington.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

House GOP officials say they won’t consider the immigration bill that passed the Senate, NPR reports (via WBUR). They seem to be ignoring George W. Bush on the subject, too.

The Texas House passes a restrictive abortion bill and sends it along to the Senate where passage seems certain, Governing reports.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn suspends the pay of state legislators until they pass legislation to deal with the state’s public pension mess, Governing reports.

ELECTIONS

State Sen. Dan Wolf of Harwich announces a run for governor in what is shaping up to be a crowded Democratic field, WBUR reports. Wolf introduces himself on Blue Mass Group.

Boston mayoral candidate Charlotte Golar Richie wins support from some of Boston’s blacker leaders, the Herald reports.

True fact: Romney-Ryan tee-shirts have surfaced in Kenya.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Apple conspired to set e-book prices, a judge rules. The company says it will appeal the ruling, NPR reports (via WBUR).

HEALTH CARE

House Republicans are jumping on the fairness of the Obama administration delaying the mandate for employer health care coverage while keeping in place the individual mandate.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Spire Corp., the Bedford maker of solar photovoltaic equipment, is delisted from the NASDAQ stock exchange because its stock is trading below the minimum $1 a share, the Boston Business Journal reports.

The Plymouth Zoning Board of Appeals voted against an appeal by residents who wanted the owners of Pilgrim power plant to obtain a special building permit for the new storage facility they are constructing to house nuclear waste.

Members of Fairhaven’s Board of Selectmen as well as some turbine opponents are upset over a survey sent by the Board of Health to residents who have complained about the town’s turbines. The survey asks, among other things, if they opposed the turbines before they were erected and if they are against wind power in general.

A new scientific paper indicates forests are adapting to climate change, Time reports.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A growing population of aging inmates are taxing the resources of the the nation’s prisons.

A Lynn resident is charged with beating a 3-month-old child to death after learning that the infant and its twin brother were not his, the Item reports.

MEDIA

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

The Tribune Co. plans to split its publishing and broadcast properties into separate companies, the Wall Street Journal reports.

WCVB sues Aero, which carries TV channels over the Internet, the Boston Business Journal reports.