Wrongfully convicted essays
Seventy-eight percent of the exonerations did not involve DNA evidence. This finding surprises many people, as it seems at odds with the way that crime is prosecuted on popular television shows and in movies, where the perpetrator inevitably leaves behind a tiny but undeniable bit of himself. In fictionalized accounts, diligent detectives and technicians rapidly collect and analyze this trace DNA evidence.
More often than not, when the episode concludes, the bad guy has been conclusively identified, apprehended, and locked away. The reality is much messier and more complicated. Even when DNA exists, backlogs and bureaucracy mean that it can take months, if not years, to test. Crime labs also come to erroneous conclusions, often because the technicians are incompetent, overwhelmed, or even corrupt.
In , at a San Francisco crime laboratory, a technician stole some of the cocaine she was supposed to be testing, resulting in a scandal that led to the dismissal of seventeen hundred pending criminal cases. Both employees had failed DNA proficiency testing examinations administered by a national crime lab accrediting agency a year earlier, but had kept their jobs. At least one found conclusive DNA matches where none existed. San Francisco is just one example. Similar and worse corruption has been exposed in Massachusetts.
In April , state authorities overturned twenty thousand convictions after a crime lab technician was caught falsifying test results; in November of the same year, another six thousand convictions were thrown out when it was discovered that a lab technician in a different laboratory was on drugs when she performed the testing.
But most crucial, and most fundamentally misunderstood, is the fact that there is no DNA to test in the vast majority of criminal cases. What this means is that even if DNA evidence is competently collected and properly tested in every case where it exists, it will do little to stem the rising tide of false convictions.
And it is a tide—a rising one. In , a record-setting people were exonerated. Full of anger, sadness and fear, they learn to stifle their emotions in order to survive. Decades later, they leave prison with no ready access to services or a support system that can help them re-acclimate to society.
The road to obtaining money from the state, if that is even possible, can be long and arduous. The physical shackles of prison are gone, but there are invisible ones that remain firmly in place. But the damage is not limited to the exonerees. Sidelined by a system that failed them, they are left to watch as stricken bystanders as the men they had learned to hate are set free.
These families feel cast aside, because the exoneration process is not concerned with their suffering. Like the exonerees, they are without the resources to cope with overwhelming and wildly conflicting emotions. While the crimes that shattered their lives happened thousands of miles apart and in different decades, the repercussions have a familiar rhythm. There is the result—conviction, removal from civilized society of the perpetrator, and the leaden certainty of an ending. When the truth erupts with all of its outsize consequences, exposing a system that is rife with venality, bias, and cruelty, the revelations are not freeing.
A wrongful conviction is a psychological prison for everyone it impacts directly. The question is how to get out. Some crime victims, like Christy, do it by making a justice of their own. Thompson, who had been raped and nearly killed in , misidentified her attacker as Ronald Cotton following the faulty identification procedures that were standard practice at the time.click here
Cotton was convicted and sent to prison. Picking Cotton , the book they co-authored about their improbable story, had been published in and became a bestseller. Christy agreed to speak at the conference. Having met Monroe in the past, she trusted her, and it was an honor to be speaking on a stage with Thompson. Still, she did not know what to expect.
The room was packed with exonerees. Thompson was not particularly nervous.
1. Miscarriages of Justice: The Impact of Wrongful Imprisonment - JustResearch Edition no
She had participated in hundreds of forums like this one. She expected the usual questions about the specifics of her story: what she believed was her rock-solid memory of the event and her shame and horror at learning years later of her misidentification. Instead, Monroe posed a different question. I felt that, too. And there was no moving on from it. Year after year, there were new developments: the investigation, the trials, the death penalty sentence for Williamson, the shocking news that the wrong men had been convicted, the arrest, prosecution, overturned conviction, and re-prosecution of Glen Gore.
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Her family and its trauma was dissected over and over again in the public square: The town was small, the case was notorious and the glare of the media was unrelenting. No one, it seemed, could ever stop talking about the case, and yet no one had any interest in hearing about the suffering of the victims who were still alive. Now Monroe was giving Christy a public platform to speak from her heart—not about the facts of the case, or the awfulness of the injustice experienced by the men who had been wrongfully convicted—but about what it had done to her family.
Christy left the conference feeling as though she had come to a turning point. In , two years later, the opportunity presented itself. Steve Saloom, the former policy director at the Innocence Project, reached out to Christy and asked if she would be willing to write an op-ed about a controversial Oklahoma execution scheduled to take place just days later.
Christy grew up believing in the death penalty as an instrument to deliver justice and retribution.
But the condemned man, Richard Glossip, was believed by many prominent people to be innocent. Still, the idea of taking a public stand seemed crazy. In Oklahoma, embracing the death penalty was a part of being a patriotic American.
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In Ada, people still spoke with pride about a vigilante execution more than a century earlier. It happened in , after a wealthy cattle rancher was killed. Four men were arrested, but before they could be put on trial, a mob broke into the jail, dragged them out, and hung them in a nearby barn. A gruesome photograph of the four dead bodies—dangling from the rafters as chickens pecked at the ground below—was still emblazoned on T-shirts, coffee mugs and postcards. Christy saw the memorabilia around town when she was growing up, always with the same tagline: Ada: A Great Place to Hang Out.
But Christy no longer felt that way herself. It is not fair and it is not balanced. It was not the cause she would have chosen, but she felt it choosing her.
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She started by acknowledging the suffering of the victim and his loved ones. A very powerful letter. Christy, watching at home, was amazed. On September 16, hours before Glossip was scheduled to die, his lawyers persuaded the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to issue a stay ; but when it was lifted two weeks later, the governor announced that the state was going forward with the execution on September After Glossip had eaten his last meal, he got another reprieve —it was his fourth in a year.
The state, as it turned out, did not have any more potassium chloride, one of the drugs required under its protocol. The following month, the attorney general announced a moratorium on the death penalty after it was revealed the state had swapped out other drugs in the past—leading in some cases to botched executions. The head of the Department of Corrections and the warden were forced to resign. Meanwhile, Christy found herself in demand, traveling to Ohio to testify before the state Senate in support of a bill banning the execution of the mentally ill, and to Nebraska to give the keynote address at the annual awards dinner for Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
In , Christy was named to the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission, an member bipartisan blue-ribbon panel.