Every day it seems, some con in America is released from prison after DNA shows they’re innocent of their crime.
There’s the righteous indignation from the public. He should never have to work for a day in his life. He should sue the hell out of that prosecutor. How the hell did he get convicted? America’s justice system is broken.
It happens. More often than it should. There’s a murder, a rape or a robbery. They lift some kid off the street. There’s no physical evidence but enough circumstances. The kid has the wrong background. He’s the wrong race. He has the wrong friends. He has a bad lawyer. Before you know it, a jury is having a hard time believing his story and puts him in the pen.
What always bothers me is after they’re released. Sometimes, the prosecutors just refuse to believe that they were wrong. There’s the Norfolk Four. Several sailors are convicted of raping and killing a woman. None of their DNA is found on the victim or at the scene. They gave false confessions thanks to one hell of a pushy investigator. (The investigator was later convicted himself of extortion and lying to the FBI).
Did the four poor sailors get exonerated? Partially. The governor released them but their convictions still stand. They are free but are considered sex offenders.
It all happened because one of the sailors cracked under a crooked investigator’s interrogation and named several other men who also did the same thing.
Eventually a DNA match was made to another man. When he was charged, the murderer told police he did it alone.
If you listen to the prosecutors and the investigators though, the four sailors are still guilty.
When I covered the courts for a newspaper, there were many times when I felt a defendant was unfairly charged. I never thought any of them were innocent, I just felt there were some murder cases that should have been manslaughter. There were also some sex assaults that were based solely on a victim’s testimony.
As I covered the cases, I’d often talk to the prosecutors and cops about the lack of evidence or the possible misapplication of charges. Not one of them ever showed a hint of hesitancy. They all believed fully that they were pursuing the right charge against the right man.
It took me a long time but I eventually learned something: they had to believe it.
Being in law enforcement is a tremendous responsibility. Lives are literally in your hands every day- the lives of the victims, the suspects and their families.
Most cases, despite what you see in the media, are very cut and dried. Investigators are good at what they do and 99.99999 percent of the time they’re right. The problem is that .00001 percent of the time when they’re wrong. Even when it’s later proved they have the wrong guy, they still can’t get it out of their head that they were off base.
They have to believe it though. If they can’t believe in their ability, their skills and their evidence, how can they expect a jury to buy it? It’s an issue of commitment I guess.
Is there a way to fix it? I don’t know. I’m just an observer who’s never been arrested, charged, victimized or processed in any capacity by the criminal justice system.
All I know is there are people in prison who shouldn’t be and it’s largely because of belief and not evidence.