Friday, August 13, 2010

Wronged by Justice for 27 Years...

Wronged by Justice for 27 Years... (*)
By: Payman Akhlaghi

Until quite recently, when he was found to be innocent, Michael A. Green spent 27 years in prison for a crime he never committed. And if it were not for the new science of DNA, and some little evidence kept in the archives by accident (sic!), he might have had to remain incarcerated for another 48 years, to serve a 75-year sentence in full. Arrested at 18, Mr. Green was no angel; but nothing he did at the time came even close to the immensity of the accusations laid upon him by the prosecutors -- and by the victim of a gang rape, a white woman. (Mr. Green is black.) He never admitted to his guilt, and he even passed on a 5-year sentence, offered to him in exchange for admitting to something which he insisted he had not done, in the first place. While living a most torturous life in prison, he educated himself in law, and eventually typed the appeal request, which led to the re-opening of his case, and to his soon to be announced exoneration. As you contemplate the plight and misery of this now 45-year old man, bear in mind that 258 people have been exonerated in the past decade alone, as the result of DNA tests.

Ever since a child, nothing could pain me more than the very thought of a "wrongfully accused" person. I was 9 or so, when I read a short story by Leo Tolstoi (**), about a decent merchant, who's wrongfully accused of murder. 30 years later, I still remember the suffocating feeling of absolute loneliness, which I felt while reading that story, a dark feeling thereto unknown to me. About the same age, I became mesmerized by Hitchcock's "Confession", a film about an innocent priest wrongfully accused of murder, which was playing one late night on our B&W television in Iran. His "Wrong Man", which I finally saw just a few years ago, still chilled me even further. Same goes with such films as "I Want to Live" (1958), or the more commercially oriented "The Fugitive" (1993), not to the mention the tragic death of Desdemona in Shakespeare's "Othello". Understandably enough, real-life news and reports could leave an even deeper impression, since they lack a degree of detachment that fiction would afford. All things considered, I'd rather see a possibly guilty man walk free, than to think someone possibly innocent is being punished for something he never did. For me, one wronged innocent is too many.

As horrifying Mr. Green's story is, we might find some solace in the fact that he's still alive, that the justice let him live, albeit making him carry a harsh sentence all along. But what about those who might have been wrongfully sentenced to death? How could a society ever forgive itself for such executions carried upon innocent men and women? To sum up this short Note, if we ever needed only one final reason to make us fully abolish the capital punishment forever, the story of Mr. Green whould suffice. Yet, there are at least 250 other stories like his.

August 13th, 2010
Los Angeles

(*) This Note was written in reference to the article which appeared in NY Times, August 12th, 2010. It may be found at the following link:
"Cleared, and Pondering the Value of 27 Years"
By James C. McKinley Jr.

(**) "God Sees the Truth, But Waits", a short story by Leo Tolstoi. Reading a Persian translation of this story as a child has left an indelible impression on me.

© 2010: Payman Akhlaghi. All pertinent rights reserved.


Payman Akhlaghi ----- ( پیمان اخلاقی ) said...

Related Update 1:
From NY Times, September 16, 2010:

Two men were just exonerated after 30 years in prison, based on DNA evidence from the crime scene. They were Philip Bivens (59) and Bobby Ray Dixon (53). A third man, Larry Rufin, is also expected to be exonerated posthumously. (He died in prison, 2 years ago, from a heart attack.) It seems that these men had been coerced to confess to a crime they had not committed. The DNA evidence has now pointed the accusation to a different person, who's serving life in prison for another crime.

Payman Akhlaghi ----- ( پیمان اخلاقی ) said...

Update 2:

According to NY Times, 11/27/2010:

"Ex-Justice Explains Changed Death Penalty Stance
Justice John Paul Stevens said he found the death penalty unconstitutional because of racism, politics and hysteria."

Here is the full article: