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Ira Einhorn: The Unicorn

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Thus ended the manhunt for one of the most famous cultural and political icons of his time, and Einhorn was finally brought to justice for the crime he had committed. However, the debate still rages on whether or not he should have been brought to trial in the first place. The arguments put forward by his lawyers, Ted Simon and Norris Geldman, at the French extradition hearings were impeccably sound, based upon trite principles of a just legal system that one should always have the right to represent and defend oneself, and that the presumption of innocence must always be preserved.
The American reaction to those arguments, while understandable, was vitriolic and at times jingoistic. It was not uncommon to hear the sentiment, “Why are the French interfering in a matter that concerns an American suspect committing a crime against an American citizen, on American soil?”, conveniently ignoring the terms of the extradition treaty between the United States and France, stating that local law must be applied in extradition matters.
Rather more persuasive are the arguments that the trial in absentia had to be conducted by 1993 because many of the material character witnesses, such as Maddux’s parents, were dying or getting old. Fred Maddux killed himself in 1988 and Elizabeth Maddux died of emphysema in 1990. The emotional arguments focusing on the heinous character of Einhorn, the wonderful or youthful attributes of the victim, or the grisly nature of the crime, while again understandable, are beside the point.
The point, and also the principle at stake, is that justice is as much in the process as it is in the final result. A full-scale trial in absentia complete with verdict and sentence offends the principles of observance of due process. These principles may have protected Ira Einhorn in this case, at least temporarily, but they also protect an innocent person every day from the excesses of government. A person cannot be arbitrarily sentenced to punishment without having the chance to enter a defence. It obviously need not be stated that proof of absence is not proof of guilt, not by a long measure.
The Einhorn case saw the clash across the Atlantic of two differing viewpoints on law. The resulting politicisation saw Einhorn alternately reviled as a disgusting and cold-blooded murderer and celebrated as a human rights cause. In the end, while it appears that Einhorn got his just deserts and that justice for Holly Maddux was finally achieved, it also appears that human rights and the rule of law suffered a blow and that emotion and politics triumphed over the law.