Thursday, January 18, 2007
Convicted...but not guilty
What could it possibly be like to be accused...and convicted...of something you didn't do?
In today's New York Times, there is an article about our very own Dallas County--A 12th Dallas Convict is Exonerated by DNA.
I can remember when I used to work at a gas station in college. The lady who owned the gas station was extremely particular (anal might be a more fitting word) about everything. I used to dread picking up the phone at my apartment...yes, this was before the days of Caller ID...for fear she would call. I knew if she called it wasn't good. Most of the time it was because she wanted me to work on my day off. But I can remember a time when she called me early in the morning to tell me that the cash drawer was something like $2 off and she wanted to know what had happened. To me, it sounded and felt like an accusation. It was only $2! Besides that, it's not like I came up short every time I worked! I knew I hadn't taken $2. Perhaps I miscounted someone's change, but I hadn't taken her $2! The point is, I was being accused of something I didn't do. I didn't like that feeling and dreaded being around her after that.
The situation in Dallas County is much worse. In Dallas County, at least twelve people have been accused and convicted (!) of something they didn't do. ...And these are just the innocent cases they've discovered since 2001! How many more are there??? Twelve innocent people are a LOT of innocent people to be serving behind bars for a false conviction! The sentences aren't short either.
James Waller just lost over 10 years of his life to a false conviction. He says he's not angry. I can't say that I would feel the same way. The fact that they convicted him (albeit, falsely), his name and reputation have been, are, and probably always will be questioned. A good name and a reputation is a hard thing to get back.
I understand that jurors have to make a decision based on the information they are given (though in this particular case it seems like they made a decision based on way too little evidence!). Is this "tough on crime" bravado that Texas shows off really working? Twenty four people were executed in Texas last year. How many of those were innocent? Does legally killing people and wrongfully convicting people really deter crime--especially considering what we are finding out about how many of those people are innocent? Or does it just give us a false sense of taking "bad" people off the streets?
I'm glad that The Innocence Project is out there advocating for people and challenging courts to go back and test DNA evidence. I would like to think that their findings are beginning to change some of the ways we handle situations in our court rooms.
I hope it makes us all question the assumptions we sometimes make about people.