Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | November 17, 2003

Orabenua guilty, Durst not guilty: This is justice?

Can you believe it was nearly a decade ago that the nation tuned in – and most watched with dumbfounded disbelief – to witness a jury render a not guilty verdict for accused double murderer O.J. Simpson?

I reacted the same way when I read that a jury had found Robert Orabuena, 41, of Gilroy guilty of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.

If you haven’t been following the case, it began on July 4 when Orabuena tried to make a left turn into a San Benito County driveway when Joseph Judnick, 48, of Salinas, came roaring up the road in the opposite direction. Orabuena apparently misjudged the timing of the left turn and his minivan and Judnick’s Harley slammed into each other. Judnick did not survive the tragic crash.

Defense experts estimate that Judnick was traveling at 78 to 87 mph in a 55-mph zone as he approached Orabuena, a speed Judnick managed to reduce to 65 to 70 mph by the time of the impact. After the accident, Orabuena says tried to save Judnick’s life by administering CPR.

Despite this, Orabuena was charged with second degree murder and driving under the influence of marijuana. He was held in jail on a stunning $1 million bond for 36 days, despite repeated blood and urine tests showing Orabuena had no illicit drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of the accident.

Eventually, Orabuena’s bail was reduced, the murder charge was dropped and another felony charge was tossed by a judge, but Orabuena still lost his job laying fiber optic cable for Charter Communications while incarcerated and suffered the trauma of facing 25 years in prison. And now he’s been found guilty of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and faces up to a year in jail.

All because he misjudged a left turn with a motorcycle apparently racing toward him.

But real estate heir Robert Durst can admit to shooting a man in his apartment, concede that he dismembered the body, confess that he filled trash bags with the body parts and dumped them into Galveston Bay. But that’s not all. Prosecutors allege that Durst cleaned the crime scene and returned to retrieve the victim’s head, which has never been found. But wait, there’s more. After his arrest, Durst jumped bail. And remember the shooting occurred while Durst was living in Galveston posing as a mute woman to escape an investigation into his first wife’s disappearance. Yet, he was able to convince a Texas jury that it was all self defense.

As David Letterman said the other night, even O.J. was outraged when he heard about the Durst verdict.

I know, they’re different cases, but it just seems wrong that Robert Orabuena stands convicted of a crime while Robert Durst does not.

There was one bright spot of legal news last week. Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore was fired by a judicial oversight panel for defying a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Supreme Court building.

Despite reports that 75 percent of Alabama residents support Moore, the panel did exactly the right thing in its unanimous decision.

The purpose of separation of government and religion is not to punish religious people, but to protect them. The presence of a monument of the Ten Commandments, or a portion of the Koran or the Book of Mormon, or any religious text at a public building violates the First Amendment’s prohibition against respecting the establishment of any religion.

Anyone who values religion ought to understand that it’s in their best interest to keep government out of it. Any religion worth its salt doesn’t need a rock monument in a government building to bolster it, anyway.

Further, Moore’s outright refusal to obey a higher court’s order to remove the monument renders him hypocritical at best and judicially impotent at worst. How can he expect anyone who appears before him to respect his rulings and orders when he doesn’t do the same?

Despite Moore’s loud claims to the contrary, the case was not a punishment for his acknowledgment of God. It was about respect for the rule of law, including the key tenet in our Bill of Rights that prevents any religion from gaining favor from the government.

I’m grateful that the Alabama judicial panel made the right decision in the face of overwhelming public opposition and protected the rights of all Americans in the process – even, or perhaps more accurately, especially, those who disagree with what they did.

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