What the woman told police could have been incriminating evidence against Melvin Johnson, suspected of three Seattle murders, if she’d been anyone else. The woman was Johnson’s wife, says the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, meaning that her testimony wouldn’t be allowed in a courtroom. Her information was virtually useless to prosecutors hoping to hold Johnson responsible. Prosecutors say the triple murder is just one example of why lawmakers should change the state’s “husband-wife privilege.”
Reformers say it should be up to the spouse who knows something about the crime to decide whether to testify. As the law stands now, the other partner in the marriage — the one accused of the crime — can block the spouse from testifying. Asks Tom McBride of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, “Why in the world does the institution of marriage need to suppress information from a jury automatically?” Defense attorneys say the proposal undermines the purpose of the centuries-old privilege — to protect the sanctity of marriage — and gives too much power to prosecutors.