I would like to begin by saying that though I do indeed live in West Milford, I do not know the individual whose mugshot is displayed most prominently on the front page of the Jan. 20-26 edition of the West Milford Messenger.
I do not write to defend or condemn him. He could be that most despicable of humans, a sexual predator who preys on women, or he could be a man who, in the heat of passion somehow missed a consensual red light and now finds himself in a world of legal hurt.
Wherever the facts are in the case of this young man, after reading your article in the Messenger, I do not know what they are.
Nobody in their right mind would wish to be seen as condoning sexual assault of any kind, but is it wrong to note that the legal term “sexual assault” covers a dizzying array of offenses, some much, much worse than others?
Should we not know a bit more about exactly what this specific individual is accused of, or perhaps even wait till he has had his day in court and a jury has had a chance to hear the facts of his case and decide him innocent or guilty, before placing his mugshot above the fold on the front page of his local paper?
By presenting this information to your readership where and how you have, in the court of public opinion where it speaks with a loud voice, hasn’t the West Milford Messenger made a journalistic prejudgment in this case?
In this country, even those accused of sexual assault must be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and as journalists, you must be aware that even the most innocent of men can’t help looking a tad guilty in a mug shot.
If your headline read, “WEST MILFORD MAN FOUND GUILTY OF SEXUAL ASSAULT,” accompanied by a full explanation of exactly what sexual acts he’d been convicted of committing, I would not be writing this letter.
But any juror, and certainly any reader of a local newspaper, would need more facts than those supplied in this article before they could or should begin any sort of fair deliberation.
As a reader of your paper, it seems to me that you’ve editorially begun this particular young man’s story at the end, guilty as seen and presented, rather than at the beginning.