It's a tossup in my mind which image is more burned into the American psyche - Laci Peterson, captured in family photos prior to her death, her million-dollar smile gleaming. Or Scott Peterson, captured on endless amounts of news footage prior to his conviction, emotionless as an Egyptian sphinx.
Both images figured in the legal outcomes of first finding fertilizer salesman Scott Peterson guilty of the murder of his wife and unborn son, and then recommending the death sentence. Both images fueled cheering crowds outside the courtroom following the verdict and the sentencing.
But much of the legal world is not cheering. It's on edge about where to go from here. The view, at least from some quarters, is that loads of evidence proved Mr. Peterson to be a liar and an adulterer. Very little solid evidence clinched the case against him as a murderer. Which brings us back to his courtroom demeanor. The same stoic look - showing neither remorse, sorrow, regret, nor grief - was there for the jury to scrutinize throughout the trial. It was even there as he heard his death sentence.
Clearly, plenty of people in stressful situations don't act the same way characters do on your favorite TV crime drama, where actors, paid to show emotion, break down in tears of remorse night after night. But those TV images are so embedded in the minds of Americans - the jury pool for future cases - that lawyers have to wonder, and respond. That response, experts speculate, will include acting lessons for their clients. While this already occurs to some extent, it's about to occur even more. In other words, if you are the accused, you'll be taught how to portray sorrow and regret, even if you don't feel them.
Regardless of the merits or demerits of the Peterson conviction, this is not a good trend for the justice system. It drags society in the wrong direction, toward manipulating jurors and observers, including the press.
Unless, of course, thoughtful people look deeper.
What about an exploration into the divine source of justice - a source that neither manipulates nor can be manipulated? What about returning to the Bible for insight into where justice comes from and what truly gives it its authority? Wouldn't this help justice surface more consistently in our society? The Old Testament tells us, "The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us" (Isa. 33:22). And this, ultimately, is where people all need to turn in prayer.
Every recognition that God, the divine Truth and Principle of all, is also judge, lawgiver, and ruler, tends to underpin every human endeavor for a more equitable legal system. Every realization that the source that gave us the Ten Commandments is still on the scene with the same timeless wisdom, inclines our system today in the right direction. It helps those who make and implement laws respond to intuitions that lead to greater fairness and less exposure to exploitation. To know that a just and divine Principle exists and is in operation is to pray in a way that transforms a good but flawed legal system into one that is better, with fewer flaws and more safeguards.
A New Testament account carries forward Old Testament themes. It's the story of Jesus facing a profoundly unfair system. Pilate, a man in authority, said to Jesus before he was condemned, "Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?" Jesus replied, "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above" (John 19:10, 11).
The power "above," the divine Truth and Principle of all, does have a transforming impact on the inequities and injustices inherent in human systems. That transforming impact shows up with greater consistency, though, when people take the time to be aware. To realize more of God's nature and power as judge, lawgiver, and ruler. And to prayerfully apply this awareness to the legal troubles facing our society.
In line with both the Old and New Testaments, Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy once wrote, "Let Truth uncover and destroy error in God's own way, and let human justice pattern the divine" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 542). That directive, heeded, will do much to benefit our courts and to make our society a safer, fairer place.