All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Monday, September 30, 2019

A famous athlete takes on injustice!

Boy, does that sound a lot like the Maurice Carter story!

National basketball star Maya Moore, of WNBA fame, is in the news these days. She shocked the basketball world earlier this year when she quit basketball, saying she wanted some time to pursue “criminal justice reform.” But it’s more personal than that. The real reason is making headlines right now, just in time for the observance of International Wrongful Conviction Day. She’s doing her best to free a prisoner who has served nearly 23 years for a crime he did not commit.

The man was arrested for a non-fatal shooting. After meeting him, hearing his story, and digging into his case, this basketball superstar is flabbergasted. “No physical evidence. No DNA, footprint, fingerprint,” she exclaims! Yep.

Sound familiar?

Granted, Doug Tjapkes was no superstar, but at the turn of the century, he did almost the same thing. Starting in about 1995, I became aware of this black dude who claimed he was innocent, and had already served 15 years for a non-fatal shooting. No physical evidence, no DNA, no fingerprints, no weapon, no motive. Let me add a few more “nos.” No blacks on the jury. No legitimacy to eye-witness accounts. No qualified legal assistance. No integrity in the Benton Harbor Police Department, or in that Berrien County courtroom.

Maurice Carter served 29 years for a crime he did not commit. He was released on a compassionate release, and he died just three months later, in October, 2004. He was never exonerated.

Wednesday, October 2, is wrongful conviction day. Basketball superstar Maya Moore points out that more than 10,000 people are sitting in prisons for something they didn’t do.

What a terrible blight on our alleged system of justice!

And the sad part of all this: The real criminal, quite often, is still out on the street. In Maurice Carter’s case, the drunken bully is not only still alive, but he’s still boasting about how he “shot that white cop!”

As we approach International Wrongful Conviction Day, we pay tribute to Michigan’s two fine Innocence Projects: the WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project, and the Innocence Clinic of the University of Michigan Law School.

And we pray for success not only for Maya Moore, but also for all the other advocates with lesser credentials and lower profiles, but with similar stories, hoping for similar outcomes.

As author John Grisham puts it:

“Wrongful convictions occur every month in every state in this country, and the reasons are all varied and all the same—bad police work, junk science, faulty eyewitness identifications, bad defense lawyers, lazy prosecutors, arrogant prosecutors.”

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