Saturday, July 20, 2013

Tragic story of wrongful conviction

Because of national news stories, much attention is being focused these days on the plight of young black men in America. An exceptionally high percentage of them end up behind bars.

I'd like to share a story with you that didn't make the national news. I'm afraid it's more common than we want to believe.

I'm so aware of it because I was with Andre' in prison this week, trying to get him some badly needed legal assistance.

Andre' was 21, living with his girl friend and a 1 year old baby, when things came crashing down. An acquaintance was shot and killed on the other side of town. Andre' was home at the time.

But somehow, a friend of a friend dropped his name to police, and he became a suspect. He was picked up and questioned and questioned and questioned. He was told to confess to the crime because witnesses already tied him to the crime. It's very important to insert two facts here: number one, he was learning disabled and could not read or write; and number two, he had no history of criminal behavior. No prior arrests.

So when this happened he was in a terrible state of mind, weeping and begging them to leave him alone. But the white lady cop wouldn't let up on him, and finally wrote out a whole statement on a sheet of paper and asked him to sign it. If he would sign it, she would leave him alone.

I asked him if he knew what the statement said...if she read it to him. He said that she read something to him, he doesn't remember. How could he possibly know what he was signing? He couldn't read! But he signed it, and it turned out to be a statement of confession. This is how false confessions rank high up on the list of reasons for wrongful convictions. He didn't even own a handgun at the time of the crime.

Well, a jury found Andre' guilty, and he was sentenced to life in prison. And because he was indigent, the attempts at appeals were amateurish and not well prepared. He didn't let up until he went all the way to federal court, which means that he has exhausted all legal avenues. That makes things very difficult now.

19 years later, he's still protesting his innocence, wondering how he ever ended up there. For Wayne County authorities, it was another Detroit crime solved.

I tell this story to stress how easy it is for the young black man to end up in jail, and how hard it is to get out again...even when the man is innocent.

HFP is not going to abandon Andre'.

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