Maurice Carter died just five years ago this weekend. He could not have been remembered more appropriately than at a Friday evening ceremony in Madison, Wisconsin. Some 200 people gathered in a University of Wisconsin auditorium to celebrate 10 years of service by the U of W Innocence Project.
The case of Maurice Carter was one of the first to be taken on by the fledgling Innocence Project in 1998, and the bright-eyed students and eager professors began a six-year journey to free a man they came to know and love. Little did they realize that honesty and integrity are foreign to the judicial system in Berrien County, Michigan. They traveled, they made prison visits, they dug through dusty police files in a Benton Harbor basement, and over the years they prepared impressive briefs and documents, nearly two inches thick, that proved without doubt that Maurice was innocent. Never did they expect to encounter a judge who refused to review the material...who just shoved the stack of paper aside, grumbling something about the number of trees reflected in that stack of paper. Never had they heard a judge speak with such disrespect about a fellow human being whose life in prison was threatened by a mortal disease:
We're all gonna die sometime!
I'm not going to allow Mr. Carter to be transported to this courtroom. After all, I don't own any term insurance on him!
Maurice had warned his legal team in advance to seek a different county. He always maintained that, when his case came up in Berrien County, the wheels of justice ground to a halt!
I proudly stood in for Maurice, along with a dozen persons who were freed by the Wisconsin Innocence Project Friday night, and I thanked and congratulated the professors, students and alumni for their dedication. Maurice and the other exonerees received a lengthy standing ovation.
Maurice survived for only three months after he was released for medical reasons in 2004. During that short period, Maurice Carter visited our church, filled with his supporters. And when called upon to say a few words about serving 29 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit, he focused, instead, on his freedom and proclaimed: ISN'T GOD WONDERFUL?
I'll not forget his final words. I had to lean over his bed to hear the whisper: "I love you."
May the death of Maurice Carter---a kind, gentle man whose love knew no bounds---serve to remind us that humanity for prisoners is a mandate, that complacency is a sin, and that WE are the ones who must constantly strive for a system that ensures justice for all!