Somewhere in the middle of the Douglas Prade case I keep expecting to see Cyrus Beene.
Devoted watchers of Scandal know that Beene is the White House chief of staff played by Jeff Perry. Beene is manipulative, scheming, largely unscrupulous and capable of just about anything — including pimping out his husband to get the goods on the husband of the vice president.
While he may later regret his nefarious deeds, Beene nonetheless will do whatever he thinks necessary at the moment — just as Scandal itself will go anywhere, no matter how absurd, to keep the audience rapt and gasping.
And let’s face it, the Prade case keeps twisting in a Scandal-like way.
First the former Akron police captain was convicted of the 1997 murder of his ex-wife, Margo Prade, and went to prison. Then almost 15 years later, he was set free after then-Summit County Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter ruled him innocent based on new DNA tests.
In just those two instances, you have the making of movies. Imagine the Lifetime feature Death of a Doctor, in which a woman’s killer is finally brought to justice. Think of an HBO film, Justice Regained, which ends with a wrongly convicted former lawman finally being set free.
We as viewers are used to that. We believe in resolution of stories. The resolution may be that the bad guys get away with it, but at least it’s settled.
Decades of Law & Order episodes taught us that; rarely did that show’s courtroom verdicts get appealed. Years of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation told us much the same thing. The investigators may take a wrong turn here and there as they run evidence through their marvelous toys — but most of the time they will figure things out.
These may not be good lessons for us to learn. There has been much argument, academic and otherwise, about whether there is a Perry Mason syndrome or a CSI effect on legal cases — whether what we see on TV carries over to the courtroom.
Fred Graham, the veteran lawyer and newsman, once recalled how a stunned defense attorney approached a juror after losing a case. The juror explained: “When you cross-examined the prosecution’s key witness, you did not get him to confess.” The juror expected the case to be like Perry Mason.
Similarly, an NPR report a few years ago about CSI did not find empirical evidence of it affecting verdicts — but plenty of anecdotal suspicion.
“Juries now expect high-level science to be done on lots of cases where again we don’t have the resources to do them,” said one official, “and in many cases, the science doesn’t exist to do them.”
Indeed, my colleague Phil Trexler has seen local juries quizzed about their TV habits — and warned that real life is not like CSI.
Then we face the Prade case, which close to 20 years after the original crime is still twisting and turning. On Thursday, Prade went back to jail following a 9th District Court of Appeals’ unanimous reversal of the ruling that found Prade innocent. As the Beacon Journal reported, the appeals court found that “Hunter abused her discretion in declaring Prade innocent.” Then the Ohio Supreme Court later ordered that Prade be released while the legal wheels kept turning.
I could not help imagining; Did B613 use its power to free him? Did Cyrus Beene later hiss, “Get him back in jail. Now. Whatever it takes.” Did President Fitzgerald Grant then have a secret reason for thwarting Beene? And where in all this is Olivia Pope?
On Scandal, after all, old problems are hardly never entirely solved, old errors never entirely corrected.
Although fans may rarely find its characters believable, it is compulsively watchable simply because anything can happen.
So in that respect, the Prade case is very Scandal-like. The latest events are simply unimaginable; it would take a writer like Scandal’s Shonda Rhimes to make us buy into them.
Only, here is where Scandal and Prade part ways. Scandal is, in the end, just a TV show. No matter who just got a bullet in the head, that person is pretend; we’ll see the actor somewhere else down the road. There’s no such resurrection for Margo Prade. Her family cannot hope that she has just been hidden away, ready to return in the final minutes of another shocking TV episode.
Now we are talking about genuine loss and pain. This dragging out of convictions and reversals does not make that go away.
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.