Make DNA Testing Available to Convicted Persons Claiming Innocence

Wide Reach of Wrongful Convictions

Posted: October 27, 2014 1:09 pm

Twenty years ago, Jennifer Thompson was a college student when she was sexually assaulted in her North Carolina apartment and burglarized. The following month, Thompson identified Ronald Cotton as the assailant and he was eventually convicted and sentenced to life plus fifty-four years. Cotton remained behind bars for a decade until DNA testing proved his innocence and identified the real perpetrator as Bobby Pool.  The DNA testing also revealed that Thompson had misidentified her attacker. Thompson describes the traumatic experience of the attack and the haunting effects of wrongful conviction in an op-ed that appeared in Sunday’s edition of The Hill. She writes:

My rage and hatred had been misplaced. I was wrong.  I had sent an innocent man to prison.  A third of his life was over, and the shame, guilt and fear began to suffocate me.  I had let down everyone — the police department, the district attorney’s office, the community, the other women who became victims of Bobby Poole, and especially Ronald Cotton and his family.

Several years after Ronald was freed, I received a phone call from Bobby Poole’s last victim.  I remember hearing her story about what happened to her and realizing that we all had left him on the streets to commit further crimes – rapes — that we possibly could have prevented if Ronald had not been locked up for something he had never done.  The knowledge that Mr. Poole had been left at liberty to hurt other women paralyzed me and sent me into a backward spiral that took years to recover from.

This journey has taught me that the impact of wrongful convictions goes so much further than a victim and the wrongfully convicted.  The pool of victims from 1984 was huge – me, Ron, the police department, our families, and the other women who became victims of Bobby Poole all suffered.

In the years following Cotton’s release, he and Thompson forged an unlikely friendship and co-author the memoir Picking Cotton, about the harrowing experience of Thompson’s misidentification.  Her experience as a victim and the role she played in Cotton’s wrongful conviction has shed light on the need for legislation to protect the innocent.

Thompson writes: “The Justice for All Act, which is up for reauthorization by Congress, allows men like Ronald to obtain post-conviction DNA testing that can lead to their freedom and to the conviction of the guilty.  Without access to such testing, innocent men will remain in prison, real perpetrators will remain free and new victims will have to experience the same horrors and indignities that I did.  I urge Congress to pass the Justice For All Act now so that we can live in a world where the truly guilty are behind bars and the innocent are free.”

2 Comments

  1. I Just finished my second read of Innocence on Trial: The Framing of Ivan Henry

    The book is an honest and unbiased look at Henry’s disturbing experience with our judicial system and the plight of the many wrongfully convicted before Henry himself.

    I know the author, Joan McEwen, and her family personally. They have been a major catalyst in my not only getting out of prison but also my reintegrating back into society in as safe a manner as possible. I have seen how Joan and her family took a step back in their perception of our criminal justice system to try to get to the heart of the matter.

    The rebel blood that courses through my soul noted how Joan and her husband have witnessed, first-hand, a system that was not only flawed but very biased, especially toward those who either claimed innocence or, like myself, refused to tighten the screws at the back of their tongue.

    Though I, like Ivan Henry, spent almost three decades imprisoned and fighting with the Canadian judicial system, I was as guilty as sin. Today, I regret engaging in a wanton waste of the courts’ time by nit-picking with the Correctional Service of Canada. Such nit-picking breeds a type of pigeon-holing that these two adversaries morph into a tunnel vision that is so powerful that these powerful entities can’t or refuse to see the forest for the trees.

    Secondly, like Ivan Henry I also had a fool for a client… myself…

    My experience with the court system would not allow me to keep my mouth shut which was also Henry’s Achilles heel. Henry became the victim of some of the worst crimes known inside a federal penitentiary. The inmates were more kind to Henry than Corrections staff were.

    Though I’ve seen what some convicted sex offenders have been subject to, I wont elaborate because you’d accuse me of telling tall tales. I do though know a number of men who spent decades imprisoned alongside Henry and they told me the treatment he received. I have since spoken to a number of prison staff who now believe that Henry was and is innocent but wouldn’t dare go on the record. Their change of heart has absolutely nothing to do with Joan McEwen’s book. It came through experience, the experience of spending the same decades observing a man obsessed with the now- infamous line up photo, the same photo which was the talk and humor of the Supreme Courthouse hangout frequented by the judges who were tasked to mete out justice fair and square.

    Call me cynical, but the thought of a judge having his coffee break—while staring at that blown up line up photo, and at the same time sizing up his charge to a jury—seems surreal. But there it was, displayed for as long as Henry was locked up…

    And I feel like shit for being a cog in the systems wheel?

    Let me name some light lights: “Presumed guilty”; the line-up; cat and mouse surveillance; the eight-by-ten version of the original photo; the influence of a serial killer protector; missing witness…and evidence; the fink fund.

    Joan McEwen quoted preeminent prosecutor Daniel A. Bellemare: “It is not easy to be a prosecutor.” I agree 100%…

    I was no angel, but I wasn’t responsible for prosecutors being underpaid…unappreciated…scoffed and scowled at by all…It’s no wonder that they fall into the tunnel vision that they do. Some of my worst adversaries treated me better than crown prosecutors did.

    Michael Luchenko or Blue 3 as he was known at the courthouse, must have been a lonely man in his private life.

    Reply
    • Thank-you Kevin for your insightful and gracious remarks. Joan

      Reply

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