Friday, September 12, 2014

The shame of wrongful convictions

The words “wrongful conviction” were an unfamiliar phrase to me until 1995. That seems strange when one considers that I spent nearly 30 years in and out of broadcast newsrooms. But events that began in 1995 dramatically changed my life. And that is why, when contacted by my dear friend Win Wahrer from AIDWYC, I immediately responded with HFP support for what is being called WRONGFUL CONVICTION DAY. This informal day will be observed on October 2, and it prompts me to make a few comments about this sad subject.

My life was never the same after I developed a friendship with the late Maurice Carter, a dear soul who claimed wrongful conviction. For the next 9 years I joined him in a battle for freedom. The story is now told in a book called SWEET FREEDOM, and in a stage play called JUSTICE FOR MAURICE HENRY CARTER.

Here are some staggering statistics that you should be aware of.

Years ago, a study in Ohio determined already back then, that some 10,000 innocent people were convicted every year in the United States!

A recent study estimates that about 4% of the people on death row in the U.S. are innocent!

Our attorney friend Jim Samuels, who helped free a guy thanks to DNA testing, reports that 320 prisoners have been freed by these scientific tests which proved their innocence!

Here’s the thing we’re forgetting: These are not numbers; they are people…real live human beings very much like you and me.

I’m among a small group who can attest to this first-hand.

My friend, who later became my brother, served 29 years for a crime he did not commit. There was no biological evidence for DNA testing to clear him. There wasn’t any evidence to convict him, either…but that made no difference. I was a personal witness to some of the shortcomings of our judicial system.

Another friend, for whom I later served as spiritual advisor, was not only wrongly convicted in the State of Texas, but also wrongly executed. My essay, describing the murder by the state that I witnessed, made the front page of a special section of the Grand Rapids Press.

These two experiences were life-changing. I share them, not to boast. I am just ashamed that the system in this wonderful country cannot do any better than that.

So here’s the strong reminder. When reading statistics, remember that we’re talking about sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers.

As we observe WRONGFUL CONVICTION DAY on October 2, please join me in asking God forgive us for our shortcomings, and seeking God’s blessing and guidance in helping to bring about change.

2 comments:

morrisonbonpasse said...

Dear Doug,
Well spoken, and many thanks for your amazing work over the years for the wrongly convicted.
One correction at the end, however. I believe that Wrongful Conviction Day is October 2, 2014.
Respectfully,
Morrison Bonpasse

Doug Tjapkes said...

Thanks for catching that...have it corrected now. Blessings Doug