In my previous entry, I explained that there are many flaws in our court system and because of them too many innocent people have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit. In many of these cases, the individuals were exonerated later because of new emerging evidence. Once released from prison some were even awarded settlements as compensation, though some were not so fortunate.
It’s hard to say how many innocent people the state has executed because of our broken criminal justice system, especially since as they say, “dead men tell no tales” but there are some among the living and in history who have shown us the flaws of the American court system.
There are likely more cases than we know of, but listed below are four that are unsettling:
Featured in a film produced by Sean Penn, “Witch Hunt”, John Stoll was one of many to be falsely convicted on charges of molesting numerous children, including his own. He would go to prison as a sex offender and child molester for over 20 years before the courts would realize their mistake. All of the children who had testified against them, now adults, recanted their testimonies and the judge ruled the methods used by investigators to question the children rendered the testimony unreliable. Mr. Stoll was exonerated of his crime and released from prison to receive a somewhat generous settlement for his time unjustly served in prison. Even so, the ordeal could not be undone by money. The injustice would end up costing Mr. Stoll two decades of his life, his relationship with his son and mother, and his reputation in the community.
Mr. Stoll was innocent but proven guilty in the court of law based on hysteria and unreliable testimony that investigators still deny any wrong-doing in the process of gathering.
Florida man Clemente Aguirre was one of many to be wrongfully convicted of the ultimate crime, murder, and it was a double. In 2004 he had a little too much to drink one night and wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time. Since he was seen at the scene of the crime and blood was on his clothing it was assumed he committed the crime. Mr. Aguirre spent 14 years in prison and had been on death row when DNA evidence and new evidence suggesting the daughter of one of the victims had already several times confessed to the crime, cleared him of all charges.
Mr. Aguirre and his lawyers successfully cleared his name before he was set to be executed or died in prison but other victims of the system were not so fortunate. Others have been exonerated post-humously.
George Stinney Jr.
George Stinney Jr. made history in the country at the age of 14 by becoming the youngest person to be executed in the United States. It was said that he was so small that the straps of the electric chair they used wouldn’t fit properly and he had to sit on a book.
Stinney was convicted based solely on a confession he gave police who apprehended and questioned him with his parents nowhere in sight or earshot of the beating to death of two young girls. There was no physical evidence and no eyewitness testimony linking him to the crime.
It wouldn’t be until 70 years after his conviction and execution that he would be exonerated of all charges.
The Central Park 5
Some people have only recently become familiar with the case of the Central Park 5, partly due to the presidents ranting and moaning about it, but more recently after a Netflix miniseries How They See Us
In 1989 five teens, all of them between the ages of 14 and 16 at the time, were accused ofthe brutal beating and rape of a female jogger in Central Park late at night. Police apprehended the boys who had only two things in common allegedly linking them to the crime:
1. they were ethnic male teens (4 black, one Latino)
2. They were allegedly seen somewhere in central park that night and were suspected of being part of a much larger scale attack that night in which many joggers were beaten and robbed.
There was no evidence linking the boys the crimes committed that night except for a confession that they and their families insist was coerced by the police. The police allegedly apprehended them, questioned them intensely for hours, and even deprived them of food, water, and bathroom breaks, according to one. All the while questioning them without the presence of an attorney or even a parent.
There was no physical evidence linking them to the crime, the boy’s confessions themselves contradicted one another, and there was no direct eyewitness testimony. Despite this, the boys were convicted and would serve years in prison and some time on parole before they would be exonerated years later when the real attacker came forward to confess.
Mr. Reyes, a serial killer, and rapist had performed a similar attack two days before and admitted to both the assault and the rape and confirmed that he acted alone. DNA evidence, as well as details Mr. Reyes, recalled from the crime scene proved that his story was true. After reinvestigating the matter the DA’s office exonerated the Central Park 5 of all wrongdoing.
Around the time of the crime our now President Donald Trump took out an ad in the Times calling for New York to reinstate the death penalty so the boys could be executed, it read:
“Reinstate the death penalty, bring back our police”
After having their childhoods ruined and their lives adversely altered in irreversible ways, they were awarded together with a settlement of $41 million dollars for their false incarceration. While that money cannot give them back their childhoods nor the time they lost with their families, it has gone a long way into helping them resettle into society as productive members.
If it were up to men like Donald Trump, five innocent men would be dead, and they would never have been given that chance…
The state should not have the right to murder its own citizens in cold blood. Too much innocent blood has been lost because of it.