It seemed like an open and shut case. In the immediate aftermath of the crime, the defendant, Roberto Miramontes Román, had confessed to killing Millard County Deputy Sheriff Josie Greathouse Fox. So when a jury returned a verdict of not guilty Friday, there was shock, disbelief and cries of injustice.
That is understandable, particularly from the victim's family. It is impossible to imagine their anguish and anger. Our hearts go out to them.
But it is a mistake for anyone else to label the jury's verdict a miscarriage of justice, as Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff did Sunday. The jury heard all of the evidence at trial. It weighed that evidence and concluded that it could not in good conscience return a guilty verdict because the state had not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. That is the jury's responsibility, and no one else's, certainly not Shurtleff's. If there was reasonable doubt in the jurors' minds, then it was their duty to return a verdict of not guilty.
The case took a bizarre turn Thursday when Román, testifying in his own defense, renounced his confession and insisted that the victim's brother, Ryan Greathouse, fired the shots that killed Josie Greathouse Fox. Román claimed that he had confessed to the crime more than two years ago because Greathouse had threatened his family. Greathouse died of a drug overdose several months later.
The prosecution attacked the inconsistencies in Roman's story, citing forensic evidence that included the angle of the gunshots which, the state contended, made it impossible for Greathouse to have fired the shots as Román claimed. But apparently that rebuttal was not persuasive enough for the jurors to rule out that Román's account might be true. With Greathouse dead, there was nowhere else to turn for further evidence.
The victim's widower blames the judge in the case for excluding from trial as hearsay evidence a written statement by Greathouse. But without a thorough examination of the rules of evidence as they apply specifically to this case, it is hard to judge dispassionately the merits of that argument.
The criminal justice system in general and the jury system in particular are imperfect institutions, because human beings are imperfect. Americans expect that they work most of the time, though there are ample examples of wrongful convictions that have emerged since the advent of DNA testing. That should have taught us that justice is not always as it appears, and that open and shut cases are not always as they seem.
In this case the verdict went the defendant's way.