How many wrongful convictions does it take to change the justice system?
As young children, we are taught to obey the law, respect police officers, and that if right vs. wrong, you tell the truth and everything will be okay. More and more, this has become a fairy tale. Facebook and internet searches turn up more innocent victims that are sent to prison convicted of a crime they did not do. Once they are cleared, if they every are, the trail has run ice good to catch the actual criminal, if there was one.
The United States has updated so many policies. Gays can now wed. Women can vote. The path to equal rights is in full swing. Hopefully it continues that way but what about the legal system? It has not been updated for years. Jurors are picked from the community. For many, this is their first time going to court. The court system does not prepare them at all. To many, this can be intimidation. Long, drawn out trials make jurors anxious to make a decision, sometimes even if it is the wrong one.
Read on to hear about some people that have been affected by this.
Diamen Echols, Murder
I had only heard about Damien Echols back in 2011 so I was late to jump on the bandwagon. On May 5th. 1993, three boys went missing from West Memphis, Arkansas. The 8-year old boys, Christopher Byers, Steve Branch and Michael Moore were found the next afternoon. Their bodies were badly beaten. At first glance, it appeared that their bodies had been mutilated. The first thought was that this was an act from Satan worshipers. The authorities decided that it had to be Witchcraft and felt that they knew who was responsible.
Damien Echols was an outcast. He wore black and listened to heavy metal music. All the components to Witchcraft. At least that is what they thought back in that time. He was arrested with two of his friends, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr.
There appeared to be much evidence at first. After late hours of integration, Jessie, who was mental challenged, confused. He almost immediately denied it but it was too late. The police had what they wanted.
Lucky for Damien, HBO stepped in to record the court footage. At first, they thought that they thought they had a hot story on Satanism but quickly realized that it was more substantial than that . Viewers watch with disbelief that three young men, could be found guilty on such little evidence. Damien, being the oldest, was sentence to death row.
After Paradise Lost aired, many people stood together to raise money to pay for DNA and a legal team. In 2011, all three convicted of this horrific crime, were released from prison.
Damien writes about his experiences of being on death row in a very compelling book, “Life After Death.”
Benard Baran, Jr., Child Molestation
This is the story of a young man who spent 21 years in prison for child molestation. Benard Baran, Jr. worked at the Early Child Development Center in Pittsfield, MA. He was arrested in October 1984. There were a few cases of suspected child molestation and Benard was an easy target to pin it on. He was gay.In 2006, the case was overturned and a new trial ordered. The appeal stands and in 2009 all charges are dropped but still show on Baran’s record. Attempts to expunge or seal is denied (even though at this point the verdict is over-turned and he is innocent.) Sadly, Benard Baran, Jr. passes on September 1st, 2014. Baran spent his whole life fighting a charge that he did commit.
Brian Banks, Rape
Brian Banks was only seventeen when his dreams of playing professional football for the NFL were crushed. A high school acquaintance, Wanetta Gibson claimed that she was kidnapped and raped when in fact it was all consensual. Gibson went on further and sued the school campus saying that it was an unsafe environment. She was given compensation of $1.5 million (see motive?)
Instead of risking spending over forty years in prion, Brian Banks took a plea agreement to serve 5 years. Doing so, he kissed his career good-bye.
A decade later, Wanetta Gibson would take back her allegations and her statements were proven false. The conviction would be overturn in 2012. Banks went on to try out for the NFL but at this time was not in the most perfect condition to make the cut.
Wanetta Gibson was ordered to pay back the $1.5 million dollars plus an additional $1.1 million. As far as I can tell, she never received jail time for her false accusation.
Albert N. Wilson
This particular case saddens me completely. It is like it is from the 1950’s but it is actually current events. In September of 2016, Albert N. Wilson went out to a campus bar. He met a girl there and eventually took her back to his apartment. The two engaged in consensual sex. Both were underage. They both had fake ID’s.
Later, the girl (who was under 18) would say that she was raped. She is white. Wilson is black. Both had been drinking. Wilson was convicted by a white judge and a completely white jury. My thoughts wonder if the girl stumbled back to her family and instead of getting in trouble, played the victim card? Then, I wonder, if the bar let the girl in with the fake ID, believing it to be her, how can this young man be held accountable when he believed the same thing?
The story has lots of holes in it. The girl walked willingly to his apartment. Surveillance cameras even show her leading him by the hand. Is this just a case that a black man should stay away from white girls? I certainly hope not. Either way, this young man needs support to get through this.
Sadly, the list could go on and on. Most folks think that it does not happen all that much but I would disagree. Ruining even one persons life is too much but is it really only one life? The family, friends and loved ones all feel and have deal with it. A failed justice system creates distrust, fear, loss of hope and protection. Something needs to change.
Am I saying that the Justice System is bias? Yes, yes I am. It is bias against the poor, gay and of course, people of color. Some of the older judges have been on the bench long before equal rights came into view. How do you think this helps the outcome of any case? We, the people, need to stand up for this. Unfortunately, many will not until they are affected personally. At that point, it may be too late.