News - Can Sidney Dorsey get a fair trial in metro Atlanta?

Yes. Dorsey's backers have already served notice that they will be monitoring the trial to ensure that he is accorded a fair, honest and open hearing.

Given the wealth and weight of the daily dose of local and national media coverage Sidney Dorsey's stunning arrest has received, one can't help but wonder if an impartial jury can be impaneled. I'd like to think so. And I certainly hope so for his sake.

The former DeKalb County Sheriff's murder trial — which isn't likely to go to court until February or March 2002 at the earliest — should prove to be a true test of American jurist prudence. (Ironically, Imam Jamil Al-Amin's celebrated murder trial is scheduled to begin about that time under a similar cloud of questions regarding its fairness.)

Dorsey was paraded into court for his arraignment ringed by gun-toting deputies in a manner a friend of mine likened to the court appearances of Tim McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber who has since been executed. The TV news video of Dorsey's march into the DeKalb courthouse was chilling and arguably prejudicial. To many observers I've talked to since then, those pictures, coupled with daily print and TV news stories, have painted Dorsey as a dangerous, demented, guilty murderer.

But while the video is incriminating (perhaps), I disagree with those opinions. I prefer to believe, despite Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown being hailed as a hero since his assassination a year ago, that right-minded, fair Americans of all races and political persuasions still contend that anyone charged with a crime — even such a heinous crime as this — is presumed innocent until proven guilty. That is what America is all about, right?

"I'm old-fashioned," opined outgoing Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell about Dorsey's shot at a fair trial. "I believe in the presumption of innocence. It is sort of a quaint notion now. Some of the media coverage today is almost as though he has been tried, convicted and sentenced. Some of the questions that have been asked of people have been outrageous in not presuming that he is innocent."

While Brown was a popular reformist who handily defeated Dorsey in a raucous runoff race, Dorsey is still politically potent as well. And because of Brown's and Dorsey's respective power bases and wealth of supporters, this tragedy has split DeKalb's African-American community. Dorsey's backers — led by Concerned Black Clergy President the Rev. Timothy McDonald and his cousin Hattie Dorsey, president of the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Corporation — have already served notice that they will be monitoring the trial to ensure that Dorsey is accorded a fair, honest and open hearing of his guilt or innocence. Brown's followers, meanwhile, are demanding justice — and rightly so.

Let's just be assured that the right culprits are convicted.

Emmy-winning journalist Maynard Eaton has been keeping up with the Dorseys for more than 20 years.??

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