Thursday, March 26, 2009

Is 'Clark Rockefeller' Trying to Get His Trial Moved?

Media coverage of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, aka 'Clark Rockefeller', is likely to ramp up leading to his May 11th trial date on kidnapping charges.

If the trial doesn't get moved somewhere else, that is.

I got a phone survey call Wednesday night related to the case, media coverage of it, and the public's awareness of its details.

While these phone survey companies are bound not to disclose who hired them (according to the caller ID, this one was done by a company in Oregon, 503-977-6714), there is little question in my mind that it was contracted by Gerhartsreiter's defense team -- and that they are hoping the survey provides data that could justify moving the trial elsewhere.

Questions in the survey probe public opinion about (not exact wording of the questions):
  • What words first come to mind when you hear the name 'Clark Rockefeller'?
  • Do you think the insanity defense is a legitimate defense in a criminal case? Do you know that 'Rockefeller' will be asserting this in his defense?
  • Do you have an opinion already of whether or not he committed the crime [of kidnapping his 7-year-old daughter]?
  • Is there too much media coverage of him, too little, or the right amount? What is your primary news source (local paper, TV, etc.)?
  • Are you aware of other allegations against him elsewhere in the U.S.?
The answers to these questions would all be germane to the issue of whether or not Gerhartsreiter would likely get a fair trial here in Suffolk County. That is why I suspect the opinion poll to be one paid for by his defense team in advance of asking to have the trial moved to another jurisdiction.

Note that some of the questions were posed poorly, particularly in relation to each other. The question of whether or not there is too much media coverage of him came before the question of your primary news source, but did not specify if you thought your primary news source was covering him in an appropriate amount. You can simultaneously think that there is too much coverage -- for example, by tabloid journalism sources that you don't read -- while still believing that your primary news source (local newspaper) has covered it appropriately.

The survey only used the name 'Clark Rockefeller' throughout the interview. The guy administering the survey appeared not to have ever heard the name Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter when I mentioned it -- he needed repeated help spelling it. That is an indication that few of the survey respondents knew his original (German) name -- instead only knowing his 'Clark Rockefeller' alias that he used here in the U.S. -- which undercuts any potential defense argument that there has been too much media coverage.

By coincidence, the Boston Globe ran a front-page-story-above-the-fold in today's edition about a grand jury investigating the death of two San Marino residents that may be linked to Gerhartsreiter. Universal Hub hasn't had a story on him since December 3, 2008. But neither sounds like saturated media coverage to me.

For those with longer memories, the media circus descended upon Brighton last year when he was flown in -- following extradition from Maryland -- and arraigned at Brighton District Court. I saw the craziness outside the Allston-Brighton D-14 station last year on my way to Mayor Thomas Menino's bicycle lane press conference.

No comments: