This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton, and Erin Torneo

I have to curtail this post to the book. I can go on and on about my beliefs in the 'justice' system. For those that know me, I apply these beliefs to some of the high profile crimes. And this book, much like the other great book Bloodsworth, shows how mistakes can be made. The crux, I think, of this book is the fact that the victim, who so KNEW her attacker and made sure he would rot in hell, would come back and admit her mistake at identifying the wrong person.

That is what this novel is about.

And it's something I think more and more people should read about...make themselves more aware of: the fact that thousands of men (and women) are wrongfully accused and convicted.

There's the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a probable innocent man who was executed in 2004, based on outdated arson theories.

And as Ronald Cotton states in the book, had he been convicted in the 70s for the rape that Jennifer Thompson accused him of doing, he could have been executed.

Instead, he spent 11 years in prison. He proclaimed his innocence, only to fall onto deaf ears. Who would believe him?

Well, someone did and those people were able to (eventually) use DNA in a rape kit to find the real rapist. The real rapist that had admitted to the crime to several people, who worked alongside Ronald Cotton in prison, and yet would never confess to the proper authorities to release the innocent man.

The book focuses more on the general aspects of how they felt, what was happening during the legal events. I thought it was extremely noble for all parties involved to come out and admit the flaws. Jennifer Thompson can truly relay the 'sorry' she felt for convicting an innocent man, for taking away 11 years of her life, for HATING him, because she KNEW IN HER HEART THAT HE DID IT. And yet, she was yet another victim of just a bad person: Bobby Poole, who was her actual rapist.

It's just an awful story that lends to a happier ending. I don't think the 'redemption' part - releasing a wrongfully-convicted man as quickly as Ronald Cotton was released - is that easy for everyone. Who wants to admit they were wrong? From the victim to the prosecution, it's embarrassing to stand up and say "Oops. We made a big boo-boo." But I'd rather see that -- and yes, they face the consequences of their bad investigations -- and release innocent people pronto.

But they don't. Currently, in this day and age, our system still limits DNA testing to prove innocence (or not). In other words, THERE IS DNA AND WE WON'T TEST IT because 1) the conviction is the conviction by a jury of their peers 2) the inmate has to pay for the test 3) some courts simply will not allow DNA testing.

It simply is a big ball of red tape and ignorance and, the attitude that 'this is the way the system works'.

This book gave us a happy ending. But the sad truth is that we are convicting on flimsy evidence. We are using some statistics to proclaim suspects: how many times do you hear the media broadcast '80% of the times, it's the spouse' (I made that up...but I've heard similar, without validity). So the '20%' that are innocent are already suspected and if your alibi is a little bit flimsy, think about how easily you can be convicted. We have that going on in Raleigh right now... I don't know if Brad Cooper is guilty or not, but the media and the Kary Keystone Kops seemed to be convinced he is, it's finding evidence to build their case.

So I couldn't curtail this post to just the book. There's just too much going on in the country that makes me think 'why are we still following archaic methods? why are we still excited to quickly convict? what happened to innocent until proven guilty?' I missed my calling. I don't know if being a lawyer was my calling but it was certainly working for the innocent *and* convicting the guilty so they can rot in hell.

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