It was a wrongful conviction case that got me into this business. Radio broadcasting, my first and greatest love, was luring me back after a 20-year hiatus. But then I met Maurice Carter, an indigent black man from Gary, Indiana, sitting in a Michigan prison and claiming innocence. That was in 1995. The rest is history.
Until that time, naïve newsman that I was, I felt that prosecutors just wouldn’t get a warrant, an arrest and seek a conviction if they didn’t really have a case. Little did I know.
Today is Wrongful Conviction Day, being observed on an international basis. The event was first organized by the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (that’s the Canadian way to spell defense), based in Toronto and founded by former welterweight champ Rubin Hurricane Carter. I frequently hear people say that all prisoners claim they are innocent. Rubin Hurricane, on the other hand, told me when he was in Michigan drawing attention to the Maurice Carter case: “When you hear a prisoner say he’s innocent, and he sticks with that story the whole time he’s in prison, you’d better listen!”
Since that time, I have listened. And I want to tell you something, as we observe this special day. We hear the stories like those of Maurice Carter, and somehow we get the impression that it’s usually the poor, black people who usually wind up wrongly convicted…they have no funds for proper legal representation and they encounter racial bias among jurists and jurors. While some of that is definitely true, the bigger truth is IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU!
I can tell you horror stories of wrongful convictions of a doctor, a lawyer, a cop, a banker, a businessman, a teacher…all of them white, and all of them with the means to hire good legal representation. Yet, each of these people found themselves behind bars for a decade before adequate proof was established that they had done nothing wrong! In a couple of cases, the innocent inmate died without exoneration.
There’s a special way that you can observe this day in Michigan. Your state legislature is currently considering a bill that would compensate people who have been wrongly convicted. You can make sure that your legislator votes for this bill, and you can keep an eye on Pure Michigan to ensure that these victims of wrongful conviction are promptly compensated without years and years of red tape wrangling.
Aside from that, join me in a prayer today for justice in our system, especially for those wrongly incarcerated.
Quoting the writer of Proverbs: It is not good…to deprive the innocent of justice.