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Rose's Thorns 

After months of scrutiny, Prosecutor Bill Mason shows his hand in the Joel Rose investigation.

It was a beautiful scene. The requisite spectrum of media dorks was stuffed inside a Justice Center conference room the size of an ice-fishing hut: TV guys with bulletproof hair, old-timers who had seen it all, newspaper geeks whose self-importance was large enough to eclipse the sun.

For eight months -- since the day Joel Rose shot himself -- they had waited for this moment. After all, it was the perfect story -- death, sex, celebrity, and the accusation that the city's largest newspaper had driven an innocent man to suicide. And now Bill Mason, a prosecutor who, throughout the investigation, has been painted as incompetent, indecisive, overzealous -- pick one of the above -- was about to play his cards.

He arrived with a trail of scowling fortysomething deputies, men with the swagger of ex-high school football stars. He admitted his case against Rose was circumstantial; not enough to conclusively nail the former talk show host as the pervert who sent sexually explicit packages to 42 women. But his evidence was hardly scant.

He spoke of tags from women's underwear found in Rose's garbage; they seemed to be hidden -- put inside a toilet paper roll, then stuffed inside a Kleenex box. He spoke of the labels on packages sent to women, which were "consistent" with those created by a label maker found in Rose's home. There were e-mails showing Rose's preoccupation with enemas, a recurring theme in the mailings. There was the fact that, four days after Rose knew he was a suspect, he erased all the files on his computer's hard drive, and the mailings stopped.

Then there were the women themselves, some of whom were acquainted with Rose, some of whom believed their friend was the pervert in question.

It wasn't smoking-gun material. But it was enough to show why Rose could not be eliminated as a suspect.

The media geeks responded with questions ranging from the banal to the churlish. Half the time, Mason's answers were greeted with head-shaking incredulity, as if the prosecutor's rhetorical stumbles were sign of some deep-seated incompetence or a personal quest to ruin Rose's life.

But the geeks seemed loath to consider an alternative scenario, in which Mason could have easily ignored the evidence and let a prominent, well-connected celebrity slide from scrutiny. The incredulity would have remained. Only the questions would have been different.

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