Courtrooms done right are where lies go to die. Witnesses take oaths. Tough questions follow. Facts are found. Truth is discovered.
No Bible is involved in Colorado testifying. A right hand is raised and a secular question asked. Do you solemnly swear or affirm under penalty of perjury that the testimony you are about to give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Answer positively and you get to testify.
Before taking his similar oath last Thursday, murder defendant Alex Murdaugh placed one hand on the court-proffered Bible in the Walterboro, South Carolina, courtroom. Fear of perjury is no deterrent when double murderers testify. Trepidations about the Almighty also are unlikely to compel homicidal sociopaths to testify honestly.
Fortunately, and unbeknownst to Murdaugh on the homicidal night, his soon-to-be murdered son’s smartphone captured the defendant’s presence at the dog kennel just prior to the shootings. Murdaugh had told responding police he wasn’t at the kennel with his wife and son before their murders, and he said he was some distance from the crime scene.
Murdaugh now admits his kennel lie and many more falsehoods. He blubbered while denying he’d shoot people he loved. Meanwhile, Murdaugh told this same jury how he truly loved his clients and law partners (including his brother), but stole millions from them nonetheless.
In Colorado, lying under oath at an official proceeding is first-degree perjury, a serious felony punishable by up to six years in prison. Such convictions are rare. Colorado District Attorneys’ Council statistics show first-degree perjury has been charged in 44 Colorado cases from 2017 to 2022, but only three such convictions were obtained.
Perjury charges are sometimes dismissed as part of a plea deal. Perjury is often referred to as the “forgotten crime” because prosecutors tend to overlook it and devote scant resources or attention to enforcement of perjury laws. That’s a mistake.
Back in the day, it was my pleasure to prosecute several perjurers.
The prospect of being prosecuted for perjury likely did not dawn on Delores Mercado when she took the stand on June 6, 1994, to testify that accused Denver murderer Steven Harrington was innocent. Mercado testified that, on the night of the July 23, 1993, murder in Capitol Hill, she and Harrington were having sex in northeast Denver.
Anne Carnahan, reporting for the Rocky Mountain News, described the jury being “spellbound” as Mercado testified, “I don’t have intercourse on a regular basis. It’s something I don’t forget.”
Dishonest defense witnesses also testified for Harrington’s homicidal co-defendant, Shane Davis. These witnesses were Davis’ brother and girlfriend. Their dishonesty was plain for all to see since this case was televised on Court TV.
The Denver jury found the defendants guilty of murdering Tom Hollar and brutalizing his wife. Harrington and Davis were sentenced to life in prison plus 200 years.
But justice was not finished. Witnesses shouldn’t be allowed to lie with impunity. Denver DA Bill Ritter agreed, and Delores Mercado, Rodney Davis and Lanica Jones were charged with perjury. All were convicted.
While sentencing Mercado to six years in prison, Judge Jeff Bayless called her perjury “a barbaric act” and a “calculated attempt” to undermine justice.
House editorials at the Rocky praised Ritter for bringing such perjury charges. Twelve years later, Ritter was elected Colorado’s 41st governor.
In September 1995, another Rocky editorial urged the Los Angeles justice system to impose Denver-style justice on perjurious LA Detective Mark Fuhrman.
This controversial officer with a racist past had incited an uproar when he lied under oath at the outrageous OJ Simpson double murder trial. The Rocky hoped Fuhrman was in major trouble for his perjury and would be headed for a rough stay in a California prison.
Politics and privilege saved Fuhrman from that fate. California Attorney General Dan Lungren, a Republican, allowed Fuhrman to plead no contest to perjury for denying at Simpson’s trial that he’d used the “n” word during the past decade. Fuhrman was sentenced to three years’ probation, fined $200 and given permission to live as an apprentice electrician in Idaho.
Fuhrman found further ways to make money. For over two decades, Fuhrman’s been paid by Fox News to be a criminal justice expert. Fuhrman has his own branded shows on Fox Nation. Fox is like that. Consider the odious and traitorous Tucker Carlson.
Carlson spews non-stop pro-Putin and racist propaganda to his large, primetime audience. He’s doubled down since being exposed for demanding a Fox female colleague be fired for telling truths about Trump’s 2020 electoral defeat.
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Carlson perpetually propagandizes for profit. Carlson’s calculated lies are barbaric and have evident violent ramifications.
Alex Murdaugh explained to the jury how he started stealing from clients and partners and could not stop. No thief wants their kleptomania exposed. Not Murdaugh. Not Carlson. Not Putin.
Murdaugh’s deceptions should not work in South Carolina. Big bad lies should also die in courts of justice everywhere. If too many powerful people commit perjury with impunity, Earth could become a post-truth planet.
The time is now. Prosecutors need to enforce perjury laws. Our justice system suffers every time lies under oath go unpunished. Too many liars are getting away with murder.
Craig Silverman is a former Denver chief deputy DA. Craig is columnist at large for The Colorado Sun and an active Colorado trial lawyer with Craig Silverman Law, LLC. He also hosts The Craig Silverman Show podcast.
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