Dispatches from a Reporter's Notebook

Derailed Justice

Posted January 7, 2008

Sometimes it is hard, even for a crime reporter, to understand how our laws work and why. 

A 22-year-old man walked out of jail a free man Monday after spending 10 months in the Wake County  Jail, charged with murder.  His trial was supposed to begin, but  investigators couldn't locate two key witnesses needed to testify.  Without the witnesses, they had no case.  Therefore, the prosecutor had no option but to dismiss the charge.

On one hand, this means that the case might never be solved.  The family of Pablo Ponce — a married father of six, a flea market vendor, and a Latino music promoter — might never know what really happened to their loved one. 

Raleigh police maintain they arrested the correct person.  The prosecutor maintains he moved forward with a case on the correct person.  In turn, this means a murderer might be walking the streets.

But on the other hand, if he is in fact innocent, Miquel Goytortua paid a great price.  He lost t10 months of his life incarcerated in the Wake County Jail, a place most of us wouldn't want to spend 10 minutes.   His attorney, Johnny Gaskins, claims overzealous investigators determined to solve the crime got the wrong guy. That my friends is the  proverbial  "other side of the story."

Bottom line, I don't know the answer and wouldn't begin to speculate.  But I do know that our laws clearly favor the presumption of innocence, and when there is not enough evidence to prosecute someone beyond a reasonable doubt, there's no choice but to dismiss the case.

I'm sure if it was me in the hot seat, I would want all of the protections under our law that Goytortua was provided.  But at the same time, my heart goes out to the family who may never get answers to their tragedy. 

Justice does not always deliver what we expect.

About this Blog:

WRAL's Amanda Lamb offers a behind-the-scenes look at what TV news reporters do, the people they meet and how their jobs affect them.