Monday, May 18, 2009

More Disturbing News about U.S. Prosecutors

Whenever I write about prosecutorial abuse, there generally is someone who writes me to claim that while there are a "few bad apples" out there, most prosecutors are hard-working, honest people who just want to do the right thing. I would love to be able to believe that, but this article from today's New York Times is extremely disturbing, as it describes how prosecutors are actively blocking DNA testing for people already convicted of crimes:

A recent analysis of 225 DNA exonerations by Brandon L. Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, found that prosecutors opposed DNA testing in almost one out of five cases. In many of the others, they initially opposed testing but ultimately agreed to it. In 98 of those 225 cases, the DNA test identified the real culprit.

In Illinois, prosecutors have opposed a DNA test for Johnnie Lee Savory, convicted of committing a double murder when he was 14, on the grounds that a jury was convinced of his guilt without DNA and that the 175 convicts already exonerated by DNA were “statistically insignificant.”
This is breathtaking. Prosecutors are admitting that they really don't care about individual guilt. That is the only conclusion one can draw from the "statistically insignificant" statement. A number of those exonerated were on death row, which means that the State of Illinois was preparing to execute these men even though forensic science was able to demonstrate they were not the killers.

To me, this demonstrates a level of depravity that one would expect to find among dictators and criminals. Another reason given by prosecutors was the need for "finality" in a conviction:

“It’s definitely a matter of drawing the line somewhere,” said Peter Carr, the assistant district attorney who handled the case of Mr. Wright, who was accused of raping and killing a 77-year-old woman. The defendant did not request testing until 2005, three years after the statute was passed, Mr. Carr said, and in his view there was no possibility that the test would show innocence.

There’s also the idea that you want finality for the victim’s sake,” Mr. Carr said (emphasis mine). “If someone else’s semen was found at the crime scene, we’d have to talk to the victim’s family about whether the victim was sexually active.”
Indeed, something tells me that Peter Carr would have been happy to defend Mike Nifong's "Jake Blues" logic in Nifong's defense of why he lied about the DNA found on Crystal Mangum's body. Prosecutors love the word "finality," because it permits them to say that even if a person convicted is innocent, at least someone is behind bars or on death row, so punishment is being meted out by the authorities, even if the wrong person is on the receiving end.

The argument that prosecutors use in claiming there is no need for DNA testing because the person convicted was identified by an "eyewitness." This is another red herring, for it has been established without a doubt that so-called eyewitness testimony often is unreliable. What prosecutors really are saying is this: We don't care about guilt and innocence. Once we have a conviction, then that conviction must stand no matter who actually committed the crime because prosecutors cannot ever be demonstrated to be wrong.

This is not rule of law. It is a return to the despotism of ancient times and of the modern totalitarian state which held that the sovereign or the state always is right. In a real sense, these prosecutors are endorsing the Stalin Show Trials and the show trials conducted by the infamous Nazi judge Roland Freisler.

Evidence? We don't need no stinkin' evidence!

[Update, May 18]: One thing that hit me as I read this article was that the New York Times insisted that in the Duke Lacrosse Case, suddenly DNA no longer mattered. I pointed out that contradiction to the writer of the article I have featured, although I did not accuse her personally. I do find it interesting that in a case that matched the ideological bent of the NYT editorial page, the editors and Duff Wilson, the "DNA does not matter" mindset of prosecutors also became the watchword for the NYT. Coincidence? I doubt it.


DeepCreeker said...

That prosecutor needs to read “Picking Cotton” by Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton. This article describes the case. I heard them interviewed on a local radio show. Two remarkable people.

When Jennifer Thompson identified Ronald Cotton as her rapist in 1984, she was sure she had found the right man. But she was wrong.

Cotton, then 22, was convicted of raping Thompson and another woman on the same night in Burlington, N.C. He would spend the next 11 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit.

In 1995, DNA evidence cleared Cotton of the rapes and showed that another man who was in prison with him was the rapist, a case recently covered by CBS' '60 Minutes'.

Thompson said she felt horrible guilt when she found out Cotton was not her rapist. "Suffocating, debilitating shame," she told Lesley Stahl in a CBS '60 Minutes' interview that aired Sunday. She asked Cotton if she could meet with him at a local church.

"I started to cry immediately. And I looked at him, and I said, 'Ron, if I spent every second of every minute of every hour for the rest of my life telling you how sorry I am, it wouldn't come close to how my heart feels. I'm so sorry.' And Ronald just leaned down, he took my hands…and he looked at me, he said, 'I forgive you,'" Thompson told CBS.

"I told her, I said, 'Jennifer, I forgive you. I don't want you to look over your shoulder. I just want us to be happy and move on in life,'"Cotton said.

Chris Halkides said...


Good post. The most chilling part of the NYT story is where one reads that 175 exonerations is "statistically insignificant." It is surely not insignificant to those 175 individuals.


Chris Halkides said...


When did the NYT say that the DNA did not matter in the Duke lacrosse case?