Pubdate: Sat, 20 Apr 2002
Source: Fort Madison Daily Democrat (IA)
Copyright: 2000 The Democrat Company
Author: Thomas D. Overton


This letter is a follow-up to the letter I sent on April 6. I hope that no 
one in the community is offended by a convict writing about the matter of 
Mr. Steven Helling. I write as a person who was not only grateful for 
having good people like Steve, but I am wholly convinced that he was 
innocent of the conspiracy, dispensing illegal drugs on forged prescribed 
pieces of paper appearing to be valid.

First, my ex-wife lived here in Fort Madison from early 1993 until 
mid-1994. She was on life-long medications which were extremely expensive. 
The government did not provide enough money from her disability to cover 
those expenses. Because of her financial condition, Mr. Helling would 
sometimes allow her credit until the checks came for the purchase of her 
medications. We were very grateful for his understanding.

Secondly, I believe that it is very important for jurors to fully 
understand the definition of legal terms before being selected for jury 
duty. Many times, the progress of jury trials cause people to become tired 
and unattentive. Some jurors do not possess college degrees leaving no one 
to qualify as foremen or women to comprehend the definitions of law terms.

In my particular trial here in Fort Madison, the prosecutor used six of his 
"strikes" to remove citizens with college degrees leaving only jurors who 
cited no college education! The elected foreperson even appeared to be an 
alcoholic based on her demeanor, flushed cheeks, slurred speech. So, jurors 
should be aware of a prosecutor's actions during each stage of a trial.

. . . "It is much to the prosecutor's duty to refrain from improper methods 
calculated to obtain a conviction as it is to pursue a conviction by every 
legitimate means." Burger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78 (1935).

Because the prosecutor used criminal drug addicts as chief witnesses who 
had been promised lessor or no sentences, he knew that his case was based 
on actual non-credible evidence. He knew that any conviction would clearly 
be against the manifest weight of the evidence, leaving valid reasonable 
doubt about Steve Helling's guilt. My legal research shows the following 
for your readers to observe:

The legal standard against the manifest weight of evidence is an 
evidentiary standard permitting the trial court after verdict, to order a 
new trial where the verdict, though based on legally sufficient evidence, 
appears in the view of the trial judge to be unsupported by the substantial 
"credible" evidence. "Barron's Law Dictionary, 1994 Ed."

On such a motion it is the duty of the trial judge to set aside the verdict 
and grant a new trial, if he is of the opinion that the verdict is against 
the clear weight of the evidence, or is based upon evidence which is false, 
or will result in a miscarriage of justice, even though there may be 
substantial evidence which would prevent the direction of a verdict. "Aetna 
Casualty and Surety Co. vs. Yeatts, 122 F.2d 350,352-53."

It is not proper for the trial judge to substitute his judgment for that of 
the jury on matters of credibility or weight of the evidence even if the 
judge disagrees with the jury unless the verdict is clearly against the 
undoubted general current of the evidence, so that the court can see that 
they have acted under some mistake or from some improper motive, bias, or 
feeling. "Cobb v. Lepisto, 6 F.2d, 128, 129-30."

It appears from news accounts that the jury in Mr. Helling's trial acted 
under several mistakes. The most compelling evidence by the criminal drug 
addicts should have been discounted because if their stories were true and 
they were genuinely serious about turning in Mr. Helling, why didn't they 
inform authorities before they were caught with their forgeries?

Second, how could any jury believe that Mr. Helling was a conspirator 
without believing the criminal drug addicts' testimony which, as a matter 
of law on conspiracy, had to show Steve planning to violate the law?

Third, if over 100 prescriptions were forged, it is more probative that Mr. 
Helling had no clue that the fake prescriptions were forgeries. There was 
no evidence that Mr. Helling was dishonest or a criminal in the past.

On the other hand, it is easy to conclude that those criminal drug addicts 
made up a story to appear less culpable for their acts.

Finally, no evidence was presented to prove any guilt beyond a reasonable 
doubt on the part of Mr. Helling. One must certainly look at credibility.

The primary measure of credibility is whether the testimony is probable or 
improbable when judged by the common experience of mankind. Wharton's 
Criminal Evidence, Sec. 6 (13th Ed. 1973). The assumption is that testimony 
is true unless the witnesses' character for veracity has been assailed, 
some motive to misrepresent has been shown, or bias or prejudice (whether 
conscious or unconscious) has been demonstrated. It is not exclusively 
synonymous with veracity, but it encompasses conviction a lack of 
uncertainty, and has such weight as to the truth of the fact to leave 
little room for doubt. It involves more than demeanor; it is the testimony 
as a whole in light of its rationale or internal consistency and the manner 
in which it is examined with other evidence. "Carbo v. U.S. 314 F.2d, 718, 

Burden of Proof (Reasonable Doubt). The duty of the prosecution was to 
substantiate the allegations either to avoid a directed verdict or in order 
to convince the jury as to the truth of the allegations.

The burden of proof may refer to the risk of non-persuasion, "9 Wigmor 
Evidence Sec. 2485 (Chadbourne Rev. 1981)." This means essentially that the 
party carrying it will lose if the trier of fact in deliberating the final 
outcome of the case remains in doubt or is not convinced to the degree 
required. If at the close of the evidence the (trier of facts) finds itself 
in doubt as to the facts, the decision must go against the party who has 
the burden of persuasion on the particular issue in question. "251 F. Supp. 
556." In criminal cases (as in Mr. Helling's case) the government's burden 
is met only by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. "In Re Winship 397 U.S 
358,361. Reasonable doubt means simply that the proof must be so conclusive 
and complete that all reasonable doubts of facts are removed from the mind 
of the ordinary person. "25 F. 556, 558;" or would cause prudent men to 
hesitate before acting in matters of importance to themselves. "367 F. 
Supp. 91, 101." Conclusive evidence is evidence which is in controvertible, 
that is to say either not open or not able to be questioned, as where it is 
said that a thing is conclusively proved, it means that such results 
follows from the facts shown as the only one possible. "Edwards v. 
Shrevport Creosoting Co. 207 La. 699, 706, 21 So. 2d 878, 880."

Mr. Helling was convicted on bolstered evidence in violation of his United 
States Constitutional right under the 14th Amendment. There was no evidence 
to support proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he planned with criminal 
drug addicts to violate prescription drug laws. Absolutely none!

I place the most blame on the government's prosecutors who charged and 
tried Steven Helling. Prosecutors knew before charging Mr. Helling that the 
testimony of criminal drug addicts who forged the prescriptions and who did 
not turn Steven into authorities before being charged themselves would 
consist of invented testimony. Despite these compelling factors, they 
forged ahead with prosecution.

I also criticize the Des Moines Register news account that seems to infer 
that Mr. Helling took his life only because he faced serving time in a 
non-minimum security prison. It is clear that his message was that he was 
"falsely accused" against his unblemished reputation in the community for 
integrity, and the impact on his wife and children.

Citizens, verdicts shape the law in trials. It is possible for anyone to be 
"falsely accused." You cannot possibly know what it does to a man or woman 
who has a family and loved ones. Please, by all means, pay close attention 
to the "weaknesses" in the cases that prosecutors present against people 
because the same laws apply to each and every American citizen. Moreover, 
these false prosecutions have cost so much money, there is not even enough 
money for our schools. It is high time prosecutors be held accountable for 
violating ethics in conning juries into believing noncredible evidence.

I'm able to write on this subject because I too was falsely accused of a 
crime. It is a fact that the prosecutor exploited false evidence by 
witnesses who were willing to go along with it.

The jury in Mr. Helling's case placed entirely too much weight on the false 
testimony of criminal drug addicts who had all the motive in the world to 
testify falsely. None of the evidence was conclusive and permitted a 
reasonable doubt about his guilt.

It could happen to any citizen unless these unethical prosecutors are 
restrained and held accountable for their ethical violations.

Even though in prison, the same system of injustice applied to Mr. Helling 
was also applied to me and I'll continue my whole life to correct or reveal 

Thomas D. Overton

Iowa State Penitentiary
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