The author tries to make a case that Pat Dunn was wrongfully convicted of killing his wife Sandy via a "mean justice" that includes lying witnesses, runaway prosecutors and a right-wing public with little patience to get at the truth.
Only there's gaping holes in the author's arguments and I take them on in this book review.
Pic of the Day
”Mean Justice” by Edward Humes-an A+ True Crime Read
Amazon URL for this book.
Before writing a word re my opinions, thoughts and fine analysis on this book, let me say that Humes, a Pulitzer Prize winner according to the book jacket, is an excellent writer and that this book kept me involved and intrigued from page to page-turning page.
Humes managed to coordinate all the parts and pieces of this somewhat complicated story of a man, Pat Dunn, who was charged and convicted of killing his wife, Sandy Dunn.
But did Humes convince this reader of Pat Dunn’s guilt?
In the interest of fair and balanced, I consider myself a True Crime buff but hardly any expert. I have, however, read many true crime books, watched every Dateline and 48 Hours crime documentary and monitor ongoing crimes and investigations as they occur. I even have a Blog devoted to True Crime.
None of this, of course, makes me an expert. I have no law enforcement experience whatsoever. Still I’d argue that one with such a strong interest in a subject tends to get knowledgeable over time.
I also have a tendency to disbelieve assertions of prosecutor misconduct although I have as open a mind as anybody. But common sense creeps into my attitude as I can’t help but think that a prosecutor would just as soon prosecute the REAL criminal as the wrong one. Sure I understand that some suspects are easier than to convict than others but, silly me, I still harbor the notion that prosecutors generally want to see that justice is done and locking up the right guy isn’t much harder than locking up the wrong guy.
In fact, refer to my book review on another book that was based on
a story of runaway prosecution which, interestingly, is also covered in this book. I didn’t believe a word of this Hollingsworth book and Humes presents a similar public hysteria as part of the prosecutorial background which caused Pat Dunn to be wrongfully convicted.
Finally, hey, Pat Dunn was convicted by a jury of his peers. 12 people believed that Pat Dunn killed his wife and, in fact, the author’s main source of data for the book, Laura Lawhon, the defense team’s private investigator, spoke to some of the jurors to gain insight to what she considered their faulty logic. The jury system did its job in this case and if they got the verdict wrong, well it’s how the jury system works. Which is not to suggest that putting a fellow away for the remainder of his life is a thing of fluff but for all the arguments presented by Humes in this book re Pat Dunn’s innocence and prosecutorial misconduct, be reminded that 12 other people bought the argument of the prosecutor and Pat Dunn DID have a defense.
In fact, if the reader is to believe the facts as so artfully organized and presented by Humes, the truth of the matter is that Pat Dunn had a lousy defense team. Or else, I whisper softly, author Humes leaves out major gaps in the story.
It was a penciled in comment by another reader who’d evidently checked out the library book before me that made the lightbulb go on over my head. Until then I’d been reading along, enjoying the fine, no-nonsense writing, almost believing the narrative when I chanced upon a courtroom scene that was supposed to rouse my ire at the unfairness of it all.
Montes was Sandy Dunn’s housekeeper. I quote the text from the book exactly regarding Montes’ testimony: "Montes made this point from the witness stand in a very low voice, so low that the defense team didn't catch what she said"
Montes had been testifying that Sandy went on her early morning walks always wearing her expensive jewelry. Handwritten by a former reader was a note “It is defense job to get this! Ask clerk to repeat the witness statement.”
I was stopped cold in my tracks. The author almost convinced me that the poor hapless defense team, AND the jury, were cheated from the truth yet again; that Sandy Dunn NEVER wore her jewelry on her early morning walks but Montes gave her testimony so low that no one heard what she said. It was important whether or not Sandy Dunn wore her jewelry on her pre-dawn walks as Sandy Dunn’s jewelry was found at home AFTER her murder. But if she always wore her prized jewelry on her morning walk, why was it left at home on the morning she was murdered? Did Pat Dunn remove the valuable trinkets before he put her body in that shallow grave rather than lose the value?
In fact Sandy Dunn did NOT wear her valuable jewelry on her pre-dawn walks, at least as the author’s narrative convinced me. Still, if the housekeeper’s testimony was too low, like the scribbler noted, why the hell didn’t the defense have her repeat her answer? Am I to believe that Pat Dunn’s erroneous conviction was arrived at because witnesses were allowed to testify too low without the defense able to hear the words?
The author spent an inordinate, almost mind-numbing, amount of time on the testimony of one Jerry Coble. Jerry Coble testified that he saw Pat Dunn loading up his wife’s body in the back of his pickup truck on the night she was allegedly murdered.
Jerry Coble was a small time hood in Kern county California. He was looking to help out a prosecutor with damning testimony to avoid another trip back to the slammer where obtaining his cherished heroin fix would be very difficult. The author convinced me almost from the start that Coble was a lying conniver and yes, how prosecutor Jagels believed this guy surely cast aspersions as to where his head was leaning.
In fact, the author lays out a time and era during prosecutor Jagels’ time in power and he is painted as a man proud of his conviction record and who might do anything to keep it. Which is, of course, often the case when criminals and their champions argue as to their innocence. The prosecutor wanted his record to remain stellar, the criminals argue, so he took the easy course, which was to lock up poor innocent me.
Goodness Jerry Coble’s own brother testified that he was lying about what he saw that night, that he’d even told him that he was going to arrange a lie with a prosecutor that would keep him out of jail. AND Coble was caught casing Pat Dunn’s house by a friend of Pat, with Pat’s friend even getting the license plate number of Coble’s mother’s Mustang. Coble was probably trying to get the details on Pat Dunn’s truck for the false testimony he was preparing to give to prosecutor Jagels.
The big problem here is that several members of the jury said they didn’t believe a word of Coble’s testimony. So the author convinced this reader that Jerry Coble was a liar but so what? That jury found Pat Dunn guilty of murdering his wife and would have done so without the testimony of Jerry Coble. Still and so, I accept the argument that prosecutor Jagel’s quickness to believe this lying con man indicates something shady about the prosecutor if nothing else.
The author tells the story of the hysterical witch hunts on child abusers going on across the country at that time, and pointed out that Kern county California was one major suburban area consumed with day care child abuse. The author makes good arguments that the many indictments of innocent people might have created an atmosphere of over-confidence for prosecutors, perhaps a notion that investigations need not be bulky when a quick indictment of the mostly likely perp will do. As I linked earlier, I too thought that the day care child abuse hysteria of that era was bogus and, indeed, has been found so in the rearview mirror of future calm.
There were, however, some very questionable things about the death of Sandy Dunn that I would think worth another look. However, all requests for another trial, and there were many, were turned down.
There was NO physical evidence in the Dunn house that anybody had been brutally murdered. There was a very unusual, almost ceremonial, wound to the anus of Sandy Dunn, a wound not likely to be inflicted by a husband who killed her in an anger flash. Sandy Dunn had signed her will indicating her wish to leave all her worldly goods to her husband, thereby removing any obvious motive.
In summary, I admire Humes for such an organized, well-written book. I think he made a damn good argument for the innocence of Pat Dunn in the murder of his wife. I suspect this author might have, as authors do, tried to hoodwink me or gloss over things a bit too quick.
For now, I think prosecutor Jagel is an asshole, I’m pretty sure that Jerry Koble is a lying con artist, and I do believe that Pat Dunn had one lousy defense team.
None of these things make Pat Dunn an innocently jailed man.
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