Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The exoneration is not the end of the story

This is from the Dallas News.  The county where Dallas is has had more DNA exonerations than most states.

Getting innocent people out of prison is just the start.  Most have lots of problems adjusting to the world.  They have trouble getting work and often have major health care issues.  Compensation of those who are wrongly convicted including health care is the responsible thing to do.

Beyond this changing the system so that the problems that cause wrongful convictions can be fixed is an absolute priority.  

Taping interrogations and improving procedures for eye witness identification are fairly cheap fixes that would go a long way to fixing the system.

In addition, the prosecutors and police who actively cause wrongful convictions by hiding or fabricating evidence should be prosecuted.  Currently the laws mostly give them immunity for their actions.

Editorial: Punish those who wrongfully convict

Timothy Cole died in prison an innocent man, victimized by a gross miscarriage of justice. Although a judge in Austin cleared Cole's name last week, work still awaits the Legislature to ensure that such a travesty never occurs again.Like most of the 32 other wrongfully convicted men in Texas who were subsequently cleared, Cole was black. He was attending Texas Tech in 1985 when fellow student Michelle Mallin was raped. Prosecutors had another strong suspect in the case, Jerry Wayne Johnson, a black man already charged in two other rapes. But they kept that information from Mallin and disregarded it as they constructed a case against Cole. He received a 25-year prison sentence.

Multiple witnesses testified that Cole was in an apartment studying when the attack occurred. Substantial physical evidence linked Johnson to the attack, but absolutely none pointed to Cole. Police did not put Johnson in a lineup or even present his photo to Mallin. Believing authorities' assertions that they had other evidence pointing to Cole's guilt, she mistakenly identified him as the attacker.

Johnson confessed in 1995, and DNA tests proved that he did it. But Lubbock authorities, including prosecutor Jim Bob Darnell, ignored the confession. They let Cole languish in prison until he died in 1999, at age 39.

Justice was never served in the case. Prosecutors decided on Cole's guilt long before they had a case against him. They used racial stereotypes to sway Mallin and to convince the all-white jury to disregard Cole's black witnesses. Those authorities have never answered for their actions.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston is introducing two bills this session to tighten lineup-identification procedures and require the recording of suspect interrogations. Another pending bill would boost compensation for victims of wrongful convictions. Lawmakers should also seriously consider a proposal supported by Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins and the Texas Innocence Project to criminalize the withholding of exculpatory evidence in cases such as Cole's.

The shame should forever haunt Darnell and his cohorts for the injustice they committed. For others who follow, the prospect of criminal prosecution should chill their conviction-at-all-costs enthusiasm.

In Michigan the two cases that the Cooley Innocence Project has been involved in both involved bad actions by prosecutors.  One is now a judge and the other is a prosecutor in a different county.  No costs to stealing 10 years each from Ken and Nathaniel.

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