Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Exonerations in the United States, 1989 Through 2003: Refusing to admit mistakes!

This study notes how difficult it is for prosecutors and police officers, "against all logic, to believe that a defendant they once charged and prosecuted could possibly be innocent."

When Charles Fain was exonerated by DNA in Idaho in 2001, after eighteen years on death row for a rape murder, the original prosecutor in the case said, “It doesn’t really change my opinion
that much that Fain's guilty."

On December 8, 1995, at the request of the prosecution, the DuPage County, Illinois, Circuit Court dismissed all charges against Alejandro Hernandez, who had spent eleven and one-half
years in prison for an abduction, rape and murder in which he had no role. By that time DNA tests and a confession had established that the real criminal was an imprisoned serial rapist and murderer by the name of Brian Dugan; a police officer who provided crucial evidence had admitted to perjury; and Hernandez’s co-defendant, Rolando Cruz, was acquitted by a judge who was harshly critical of the investigation and prosecution of the case. Nonetheless, when Hernandez was released, the prosecutor said: "The action I have taken today is neither a vindication nor an acquittal of the defendant."

In 1993, in Baltimore County, Maryland, Kirk Bloodsworth became the first defendant in the United States who had been sentenced to death to be exonerated by DNA evidence. Nine years later, the chief prosecutor of the county said that the police “still believe [Bloodsworth] did it” and that she herself was “not sure.” More than a decade after Bloodsworth was re-
leased, the police finally, after inexplicable delays, used the DNA evidence at their disposal
to identify the real killer, a Maryland prisoner serving a forty-five-year sentence for bur-
glary, attempted rape and assault with intent to murder.

In 2000, Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore pardoned Earl Washington after DNA tests cleared Washington of a rape murder for which he had been sentenced to death and implicated a convicted serial rapist, Kenneth Tinsley. The Governor ordered a new investigation; four years later, nothing had happened in that investigation and the law enforcement officers involved continued to consider Washington a suspect. By then, new DNA tests, commissioned by Wash-
ington’s attorneys over the state’s objections, conclusively confirmed Tinsley’s guilt and re-
confirmed Washington’s innocence.

As Justice Clark said in the IRVIN v. DOWD, 366 U.S. 717 (1961) opinion:

"The influence that lurks in an opinion once formed is so persistent that it unconsciously fights detachment from the mental processes of the average man."

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