Our conversation centered on the plight of prisoners, as it often does. Marcia asked me, “Have you ever added up the number of people you know who were wrongly convicted?”
I had not, but as I thought about it, names popped into my mind. I’ve been working on wrongful convictions since the mid-1990s, so there were certainly a few. Riiiiight. So far, I’m up to 11 here in Michigan, and 11 more from other states. 22 people, some of whom served decades, and some who died behind bars! God knows how many years they served, collectively, and the sad thing is that many of them were never exonerated.
I never get tired of talking about this, even though you may be getting tired of reading my tirades. The reason I keep beating this old drum is because it can happen to you!
Of the 11 people I know here in Michigan who were wrongly convicted, nine were white, middle-income folks, and none had any kind of police record. They were not criminals.
As I look through the list, here’s why enterprising cops and prosecutors decided to go for it:
To get even, Dan’s ex-wife accused him of molesting their daughters
To get even, Roger’s daughter-in-law accused him of molesting a grand-daughter
To get some of his wealth, parents of his daughter’s friends spread a lie about Gary
A suicidal son got even with his mom one last time
Someone killed Judy’s husband, and with a rocky marriage, all arrows pointed to her.
I’ve never forgotten a Canadian case we heard about as I was trying to help Maurice Carter. A prominent individual was arrested for the murder of his wife. She died of injuries from a fall down a basement stairway. Authorities claimed her husband gave her a shove. I think he spent 8 years in prison before the truth emerged.
It’s a blight. It’s a curse. It’s a national scandal. What an indictment on our so-called justice system when we must have Innocence Projects in every state, and that these teams of lawyers and students are swamped with business…year’s behind in their requests! How terrible that we just blithely accept the fact that about 3% of the people occupying our prisons are innocent! More than 1,000 men and women right here in Michigan!
Since 1989 about 2500 people have been exonerated. May that spur defense lawyers, prosecutors and judges to take a closer look at the reasons for wrongful convictions, and take steps to avoid them.
Meanwhile, remember that it doesn’t always happen to the other guy!