Monday, October 3, 2016

WC Day is past, but many wrongly convicted remain behind bars

Consider this scenario.

It’s the end of the week on a beautiful autumn day.  As you look out your office window over the city skyline, you reflect on the good things.  You didn’t always have an office in this nice building.  Your income wasn’t always this good.  It took time and elbow grease.  You didn’t arrive here by accident, but it feels pretty darn good.  Even though your marriage had not been the best, and your wife died in a tragic accident, you’re a survivor.  Your two kids love you, and your future looks rosy.

That is, until four men in suits walk in.  A rather strange sight late on a Friday afternoon, when business usually winds down.  Your secretary is asked to step out of the room for a moment, as you wonder what the heck is going on.  From that moment on, your life was never the same.  Your rights were read to you by one of the stern individuals, your shaking hands were placed in handcuffs, and you were led off to jail, faced with a charge of killing your spouse.

That was 15 years ago.  You’re still behind bars.  You’re still protesting your innocence.

I’m very familiar with this story, because Donald is a dear friend.  He shared the details of his arrest with me just a few days ago as we sat in a prison visiting room. 

I’m writing this blog to belatedly observe International Wrongful Convictions Day. 

Those of you who know me will remember that I got into this business trying to help a wrongly convicted African American, an indigent prisoner who served 29 years for a crime he did not commit.

But Donald is white, upper-middle class, and had money for what he thought was a good attorney.

Let me tell you about some more people who were surprised to wind up in prison.

Fred, accused of fondling a couple little girls in his home during his daughter’s sleepover;
Dr. David, accused of molesting one of his patients;
Matthew, accused of trying to kill a girl-friend;
Andy, accused of molesting his nephew;
Melinda, accused of taking the life of her little boy;
Phillip, accused of raping a female acquaintance.

After working in this business for the past 25 years, I can give you many more names.  But I cite these, because these individuals were all white, they all had proper legal defense, they all went to church on Sunday, they all were highly respected by family and friends, none had criminal histories, and none actually committed the crime!

International Wrongly Conviction Day quietly came and went on Sunday, October 2.  But I invite you to simply ponder these reasons for the day:

Wrongful Conviction Day is designated as an International Day to recognize the tremendous personal, social and legal costs associated with Wrongful Criminal Convictions.

Wrongful Conviction Day is designed as an International Day to recognize those persons who have been forced to endure the tremendous personal and social consequences brought by a Wrongful Criminal Conviction.

Wrongful Conviction Day is devoted as an International Day to inform and educate the broader international community on the causes, consequences and complications associated with Wrongful Criminal Convictions.

We must never, again, smugly insist that it cannot happen to us.  And let us continue to pray for those to whom it did happen.

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