Have you ever been falsely accused of something? Something you DID NOT do. I don't mean something that was a misunderstanding; I'm not talking about a miscommunication. I mean something you simply had nothing to do with; a case of mistaken identity. Well, I have; and it's terrible.
I was not accused of a crime or civil wrong; it was a more personal wrong. Someone very close to me accused me of something that I did not do. It was frustrating; it was baffling; it made me very sad. There was nothing I could do to convince this person otherwise. It was mind-boggling to me that I had to stand in judgment for something that I never did in the first place and would not have done.
Now imagine that you have been wrongly accused of a grisly murder. You're put under arrest; you're brought to trial; damning evidence is presented against you and the jury believes you committed this horrible act; you're found guilty; you're sentenced to life in prison, or worse, you're sentenced to death.
You maintain your innocence throughout the ordeal never wavering from your claim of misidentification, but to no avail. Your days are numbered. You appeal and appeal and appeal. And then your last appeal is denied; your day to die is set. You've spent years in prison and now you're about to take your last breath and all the while you've been innocent.
If you think this rarely happens, you're wrong. How many times have innocent people been put to death? Well, your guess is as good as mine. But the real question is how many is too many? How many innocent people put to death are we as a society willing to allow before we feel like it's a problem?
We feel safer knowing that someone has been caught and punished for the gruesome crime. Does that give us the right to sacrifice a few innocent people along the way?
I'm a native daughter of the "King of the Death Penalty" aka Texas. I went to law school in Oklahoma, a state with capital punishment, just a few years after Timothy McVeigh destroyed downtown Oklahoma City which also destroyed America's naiveté of domestic terrorism. And then I moved to a state without it and worked in the judicial system. And now live in another state where there is no death penalty. So, where do I stand on this issue now?
Honestly, I don't know if I'm pro or con on the issue of capital punishment. The turning point of questioning the value of the death penalty came during law school when I took a course on Capital Punishment which was taught by two people who were strongly against the death penalty. That class drastically changed my views of capital punishment. And yet, I was not completely opposed to it; just more exposed to the issues surrounding capital punishment.
As science and technology have progressed and we have been able to identify DNA through analysis the playing field has shifted. More people have been exonerated of their crimes. For those working their way through the criminal justice system now, this is great news. For others whose supposed crimes were committed years ago, this evidence has come too late; too late for them to see their children grow to adulthood; too late for them to have careers and provide for their families; too late for them to see their parents again; too late for them to live their lives in peace. For a few, this evidence has come too late for life at all.
And this is where I have a bone to pick. Recently, I have read a number of articles and seen a number of headlines about prisoners, with many years of incarceration under their belts, some of them on death row, having their convictions thrown out due to DNA evidence. These are heartbreaking stories.
While the falsely accused shed tears of joy and smile and make statements of "thanks be to God' on the day of release, surely those good feelings turn to bitterness and anger after a few weeks of freedom. Surely, after the realization of what has been taken from them sinks in, there are tears of sadness and rage toward the system that allowed this cruel injustice to occur.
Freed At Last
Much has been in the news about Troy Davis and Amanda Knox in the last few weeks. One case that stood out to me this week was the Texas case of Michael Morton. Mr. Morton was accused of bludgeoning his wife to death in 1986, in Austin, Texas. Despite evidence to the contrary, Morton was convicted on circumstantial evidence of this horrible crime. Morton has spent the last 25 years behind bars.
The Innocence Project run by Barry Sheck took on Morton's case and eventually found key evidence that the prosecution had never shared with the defense team, including an eyewitness account of the murder from Morton's 3 year-old son and information that Morton's wife's credit card was used 2 days after the murder. The Innocence Project also won the battle to have a bloody bandana found near the Morton's house tested for DNA, a technique that was not available in 1986. The DNA analysis identified Morton's dead wife and another man who had since been convicted in multiple states.
This Tuesday Morton was freed; after 25 years of declaring his innocence; after missing 25 years of his son's life; after 25 years of his life was wasted behind bars he's free. Now authorities are investigating a similar murder of a woman in Austin from 1988 in light of his new DNA evidence from the Morton case.
Now put yourself in Morton's shoes and think about how you would feel about walking out of those prison gates at the age of 57, after 25 years of incarceration. What can be done to stop this from happening? Well, in this case the prosecution could have played by the rules. And with DNA analysis available this kind of mistake should not be happening in courts today.
I'm a proponent of our justice system; that is, if everyone abides by the rules of procedure and professional responsibility. However, sometimes that system fails us. So, we must all be ever vigilant to never make assumptions based on biases or media; and never forget or dismiss those who adamantly claim their innocence, even to the dying breath, as Troy Davis did. Over and out...