Tuesday, December 15, 2009

$75 and a bus ticket to Ohio

Is that what 28 years of your life is worth?  That's what Donald Gates walked out of prison with today.  He was released after DNA testing showed he wasn't responsible for the rape and murder he'd been convicted of in 1981.  So now at 58, he gets out and got a free ride to his home state.  Doesn't really seem like his release really got the fanfare he deserved.  I always liked the movie "In the Name of the Father" when the judge declares Gerry Conlon a free man and he refuses to go back out through the door inmates are brought through.  He proclaims that he's walking out the front door and then climbs over the backs of the pews in the packed courtroom.  That's a much less anti-climactic exit for an exoneree than a quiet slip out the prison gate and onto a bus home.  Exonerations should be public.  And expensive.

He hasn't been officially exonerated yet, though, as the prosecution wanted confirmatory testing to be done first.  If that second round of testing confirms Gates is not a match, a federal judge will most likely officially exonerate him next week.  The good news is if Gates is officially exonerated, he will be eligible for compensation (how much is complicated by the fact that the crime occurred in D.C., so he could get money either under the federal statute or the D.C. provision).  That $75 is just seed money.


Alex S. said...

I agree 100%. There is no deterrence unless a huuuuuuge deal is made of this injustice. The "business as usual/standard operating procedure" simply isn't going to achieve anything. Compensation? How about if any of the cops or DA's who acted in bad faith (even marginally) were jailed for the same amount of time as the wrongly convicted? Or have THEIR paychecks garnished to make restitution. Have you ever seen the prosecutors/cops/judges punished one iota? Me neither. Make the players accountable for their actions for once and maybe we will stop seeing these kinds of injustices.

BellsforStacy said...

Not to doubt this man's innocence (I have no idea) but I find it interesting that if DNA is used to prove a man's innocence, it's accurate. But if it's used to prosecute one of your cases, it's unreliable, could have been mishandled in the lab, and juries give it too much weight in our "CSI society".

I have no idea DNA testings real place in the justice system, I'm just saying.

S said...

That's a fair question. The difference is whether the DNA is excluding someone as a contributor or not. When DNA is used to exclude someone, it is extremely reliable. If the markers are wrong, it's pretty clear that this person couldn't have left it.

It's when DNA is used to declare a match that I become more skeptical. Matches can be declared with partial profiles, which is obviously less reliable. If you only have 6 loci (instead of 13) and some of those markers are weak, declaring a match is dicier. But again, if any of those 6 loci just flat don't match the suspect's profile, it's conclusive that it can't be the suspect's.

My main concern with DNA matching is the statistical analysis that is offered to show the likelihood of an innocent match. There is some evidence from database searches in Maryland and Arizona that suggest the statistics are just totally off and that it is far more possible than we'd thought to have a false match, especially with partial profiles.

And whether DNA excludes or includes someone, that's not always probative of guilt, which is probably my biggest quarrel with DNA evidence. But in this case and the one I blogged about today, the DNA evidence is sperm. Obviously, in the case of a 9 year-old boy, the sperm is pretty darn probative, so when the sperm turns out not to be a match, it's conclusive of innocence.

In this case, there is truth to the idea that his DNA not matching doesn't prove he didn't kill her, it just proves he's not the guy who had sex with her. But the state's whole theory was that she was raped and murdered by the same guy so it would be pretty disingenuous of them to now argue the test results aren't evidence of innocence.

Laci the Chinese Crested said...

Wait a minute, isn't there a possibility that Pottawattamie County, Iowa, v. McGhee and Harrington will allow for prosecutorial misconduct?

there is no constitutional right "not to be framed."


Maybe we can change the law on double jeopardy by amending the Constitution as well!

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