Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Case of Disappointing "Justice"

April 1968
  Just what does a policeman have to do to get a conviction these days? Better not ask Rochester Police Chief Bob Werth.  He’d rather forget the latest incident.
  Rochester has been plagued in past months by the “pillowcase burglaries.” The thieves enter a home, take a pillowcase and fill it with loot. Last September two men were caught fleeing a Rochester apartment. Their car contained a pillowcase containing items stolen from the apartment and last week the jury turned them loose.
  The story begins last Sept. 25 when a resident of Lysander Apartments (on Lysander St.) called police, saying that his wife heard noises in another apartment and indicated that someone was loading items into a Thunderbird parked out front.
  Chief Werth and Officer Dale Marsh, driving only three blocks away, arrived at the apartment a minute later. Looking inside the Thunderbird, they saw a pillowcase on the seat with a table radio protruding. Inside the trunk, standing ajar, they found a set of golf clubs.
  GOING INSIDE, they talked with the tenant who called. “I then heard a door open down the hall,” Chief Werth recalls, “and saw a face look out.” The door slammed and inside a voice said, “The police.” Chief Werth ran out the back door in time to see two men running up the alley side-by-side “like a pair of ponies.” He chased them a block, yelled for them to stop, and fired a shot into the air.
  One stopped and the other did not. Another police car arrived and the chief motioned for them to search the area. They arrested the other man and the two were taken to headquarters. Both wore brown jersey gloves. In the seat of the police car, one attempted to hide a lock pick. On their person were found a bent knife and a screwdriver.
  In the police station, they denied knowing each other. Yet when one was phoning to get counsel and arrange for bail, he was overheard saying, “Get bail for Ronnie too.” In court they testified they never saw each other before.
  One had a long record in Jackson prison. In fact, he had escaped from prison, hired a lawyer, secured a writ and had not been returned yet. Why was he running from the scene? He said he was afraid he would be caught because of his record. He was on Lysander St., he testified, only to seek an apartment for his mother. He explained he had parked his Cadillac a short distance away and walked to the apartment.
  Arraigned by Municipal Judge Martin, they were placed on $5,000 bail— and someone immediately furnished the money. That night, the Thunderbird was claimed by the owner and it had to be released to him.
  SINCE SEPTEMBER, there were four sets of subpoenas issued for a court session in Pontiac. In each case, there were three or four postponements. Blown-up photos of the apartment area were furnished (taken by The Clarion) to give jurors a better picture of the scene. The photos were never accepted for submittal to the court. Instead, the jury spent nearly an afternoon on the scene in Rochester. To Assistant Prosecutor Alex McGarry and police, the conviction did not appear to overly difficult. But on Thursday, April 4, the jury returned its verdict:
  “Not guilty!”
  McGarry said the decision left him dumb-founded. Reportedly, the judge was aghast. The jury does not need to explain its actions.
  For Chief Werth, it was a deep disappointment. “My wife asked me how I manage to go on. It’s difficult… but it does seem a shame to tie up the courts for that long— for nothing. And the “pillowcase burglaries” continue.