Punishing the Innocent

This is an absolutely awful story (link no longer available).  The story of an innocent man who was wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife and who served 25 years in prison.  This appears to be the real life version of the Shawshank Redemption (and the Fugitive).

The tale is horrible.  Think about it.  A man’s wife is murdered.  That is a horrific exerience.  But instead of receiving the assistance of his family and the state, he is persecuted by them.  He is tried for murder and convicted.  The prosecutors, however, wrongfully fail to provide him with all of the Brady Material (that is, exonerating evidence) that the law requires to be provided to him.  When his lawyers later seek to have DNA testing of the evidence, the prosecutors resist strenuously.  Finally, it turns out that not only was the man innocent, but another murderer got away with this and other murders.

But it only gets worse.  The sister of the murdered wife blamed the husband.  She adopted their son and appeared to have poisoned him towards his father.  While the father was legally allowed to meet his son twice a year (in prison), the son asked to be relieved of this duty.  The father acquiesced.  Thus, the man spent 25 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, was blamed by the community for the murder of a woman he loved, and lost the love of and contact with his son.

The prosecutor’s lame excuse: he was a young prosecutor.

Such wrongdoing is hideous.  Sorry, but based on desserts, the people responsible for withholding the exonerating evidence should be in prison.  For a long time.  For a very long time.

It is perhaps understandable for the wife’s sister to have strongly supported the prosecution of this innocent man.  From her perspective, she suffered a horrible loss and the claims of innocence from her sister’s husband might have seemed like OJ’s statements about the need to find the “real killer.”  But however hard it is, that woman should realize her mistake and apologize.  More importantly, one would hope the son, who had been poisoned, would reconcile with his father.

These cases appear to be harder than they first seem.  The knee jerk reaction of simply putting the prosecutors away for a long time may be counterproductive, since their cooperation is sometimes needed, under existing law, to release the innocent person.  The prosecutors, moreover, may resist DNA testing and other avenues to exoneration in order to protect their own hides.

I am learning more about this area of the law.  But based on what I do know, some significant reforms are needed.  The conviction of an innocent person is a tragedy that should be minimized.  It not only wrongly punishes one person, it also allows the actual murderer to remain free.