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Justice System Needs to Incorporate Innocence Project Goals and Assume Innocence

Ruth's picture

Two very big events happened today. In Dallas, about an hour ago, a man was released who had served too much time (although any time is too much) for a crime he did not commit.

In Georgia, a man who was sent to prison for oral sex with a minor, while he was a minor himself, was released.

A man exonerated by DNA evidence was ordered released from incarceration Friday.

Eugene Ivory Henton was exonerated of a 1984 sexual assualt after DNA evidence showed he was not the perpetrator. He accepted a plea bargain and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

He was released from prison but later jailed on drug and assault convictions. His past wrongful conviction led to harsher punishments on those convictions.

Tarrant County, earlier this year, reduced his sentence to time served for a drug possession with intent to deliver conviction. Judge Lana Myers reduced Mr. Henton's sentence on a aggravated assault charge to 10 years, which he has served.

The Innocence Project, which worked to exonerate Mr. Henton, said he struggled after his release on the sexual assault charge and could not find work and tried to earn money selling drugs.
Judge Myers ordered Mr. Henton to be released "as soon as possible." It was unclear how soon that would be.

A criminal justice system that continuously sends innocent people to jail for large portions of their lives seems to be ending with the use of DNA.

Today also, the Georgia Supreme Court took note of the trend away from cruel and unusual, and much too often unjust punishment. It freed a man convicted of a crime for having oral sex with a consenting minor, as a minor himself.

Wilson was convicted in 2005 of having oral sex with a consenting 15-year-old girl when he was 17.

He has served two years in prison.
The Georgia high court upheld the decision of the Monroe County judge. In a 48-page opinion, the court said the "severe" punishment Wilson received and his mandated sex offender registration make "no measurable contribution to acceptable goals of punishment."

Other examples abound.

Willie "Pete" Williams had no idea when he was pulled over by police that the criminal justice system was about to steal away half his life.

Willie "Pete" Williams, 45, spent half of his life behind bars for a 1985 rape he did not commit.
Earlier this year, after DNA science proved his innocence, the 45-year-old with a graying mustache stood again before a judge -- who this time exonerated Williams.

The accumulating number of people freed from jail because of evidence overlooked at their trials, combined with DNA evidence, has led the Dallas Morning News to call for an end to the death sentence.

A man who spent a dozen years in prison for a rape he didn't commit was freed Tuesday, the third inmate to be released because of problems with the Houston Police Department's crime lab.
During his trial, a crime lab analyst testified that no body fluids were found on the victim's bedsheet. This summer, the Innocence Project paid to have a New Orleans lab retest the bedsheet. Semen that lab found matched the DNA of a man already in prison.

Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal apologized to Taylor in court Tuesday, and several council members echoed his regret.

All of these were black men, which I expect you knew while you were reading this far. Our prisons are full of people who were wrongly convicted, and much more care needs to be taken in charging and sentencing. We know with a sinking sensation that before DNA was brought into the proceedings, innocent people died because of their inability to win against a stacked legal system.

Project Innocence has made large incursions into the justice system. Its proceedings need to be incorporated into that system, and used for real justice's sake.

(This post also at )

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