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Our View: Suspects are innocent until proven guilty

Many of us who work in today’s fast-paced media industry can identify with the following famous Mark Twain quote: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

On Dec. 19 the Somerset schools were locked down after an alleged verbal threat was made to a 9-year-old student at Somerset Elementary.

Andrew J. R. Wallace, 21, of New Richmond, was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct in connection with the incident. It wasn’t until May 28 that the charge was dismissed without prejudice.

The truth about what happened that winter morning didn’t come out right away, but many community members, family, teachers and coaches rallied around Wallace, proclaiming his innocence. The truth often doesn’t come out until after a case has made its way through the court system – long after public opinion has made up its mind.

Though many are quick to demonize “the media” for reporting too quickly, it’s our view that a slow response during a community crisis would be just plain irresponsible.

On that December day, The News acted as community messenger to inform people about what was happening and why schools were under lockdown.

We reported what the superintendent was saying, and we reported what police and prosecutors were saying. But, we couldn’t report what Wallace himself was saying, because he had correctly invoked his right to remain silent after accused of a crime.

It took several days before we could gather community vouching for Wallace, and it took months for prosecutors to dismiss the charge.

When most people read a crime-related article, they automatically assume the suspect is guilty, but those who stand accused in America’s justice system have a fundamental right to the presumption of innocence.