Two stories of wrongful conviction hit the news today.
In Chicago, a man convicted of rape fourteen years ago has been cleared by DNA evidence.
DNA tests have exonerated a South Side man who has served nearly 14 years in prison in the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl who was attacked in the fall of 1994 as she walked to school, the inmate's lawyer said Tuesday.
Dean Cage, 41, was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 40 years in prison despite his assertions that he was innocent and was home at the time of the attack.
"I have my life back," Cage said in a telephone interview with the Tribune from the Illinois River Correctional Center in Downstate Canton. "It means the world to me. I never had a doubt. I am happy and blessed."
Attorney Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the New York-based Innocence Project, which investigates wrongful convictions, said he was informed by the Cook County state's attorney's office that Cage's conviction had been dismissed after DNA tests eliminated him as the attacker.
Cage was to be released as soon as Tuesday night.
The exoneration by DNA is the 29th such case in Illinois. The case is another example of an erroneous eyewitness identification leading to a wrongful conviction, said Alba Morales, an Innocence Project attorney who has been working on Cage's case for several years.
More than three-fourths of the wrongful convictions uncovered by DNA testing have involved faulty eyewitness testimony, she said. And, like Cage's case, many of those involved composite sketches of suspects.
And in Australia, a man executed for a similar crime 86 years ago has been exonerated.
An Australian governor gave a posthumous pardon Tuesday to a man hanged 86 years ago for the rape and murder of a young girl, after new research discredited the evidence used for his conviction.
Colin Campbell Ross, who was hanged in 1922 at the age of 28, was pardoned Tuesday by Victoria state Gov. David de Kretser.
Descendants of Ross and the 12-year-old victim, Alma Tirtschke, petitioned for the pardon.
Prosecutors alleged that Ross, who ran a wine saloon in Melbourne, gave Tirschke alcohol before raping and strangling her on New Year's Eve 1921. The only physical evidence connecting him to the crime were hairs on a blanket; prosecutors said the hairs were Tirtschke's.
While witnesses gave alibis for Ross, he was convicted and hanged four months later, protesting his innocence.
The pardon petition built on research by Kevin Morgan, who wrote a book about the case called "Gun Alley (Murder, Lies and the Failure of Justice)." Morgan arranged for forensic tests on the original hair samples and showed that the ones on Ross' blanket did not match Tirtschke's. He also gave new character evidence about the prosecution's main witness.
Victoria Attorney-General Rob Hulls said in a statement Tuesday that he referred the petition to the Supreme Court of Victoria and received an opinion "that there had been a miscarriage of justice in Mr. Ross' case."
These two cases, in a nutshell, explain why I'm opposed to the death penalty.
There have been literally dozens of people on death row in the USA who've been exonerated as a result of DNA evidence.
At least, if they've been given life imprisonment instead of the death penalty, such miscarriages of justice can be rectified. Even if they've lost many years of their lives behind bars, they can at least be declared innocent, and given some compensation.
For those who've been executed, it's too late. No apology and no amount of compensation can bring them back.
And for those who claim that it's never been proved that an innocent person has been executed in the USA . . . if you can look at all the exoneration statistics, and tell me bald-faced that you don't believe they imply that one or more innocent persons have, indeed, been executed in the past, then I respectfully submit that you're deluded.
The Innocence Project (which helped exonerate Mr. Cage) was established in response to an authoritative survey, according to its Wikipedia entry:
The Innocence Project was established in the wake of a landmark study by the United States Department of Justice and the United States Senate, in conjunction with The Thomas M. Cooley Law School. Among the study's estimates are a 5% failure rate in the U.S. justice system, which suggests as many as 100,000 falsely convicted prisoners at any given time in the U.S. prison population of over 2 million inmates on the federal, state, and local levels. Other reports place the estimate as high as 10% or approximately 200,000 inmates. 75% of wrongful convictions are caused by eyewitness misidentification.
It's a horrifying thing to think that we're accomplices to the judicial murder of innocent people: but I'm afraid we probably are. I don't argue that the death penalty may be a legitimate function of the powers of the State, and may be justified in terms of certain crimes: but if we can't be sure that we're executing only those truly deserving such a penalty, I respectfully submit that we simply don't have the moral right to impose it.
I'd rather see every murderer and rapist incarcerated for life, without probation or parole, than risk killing one innocent man or woman. At least, with such sentences, restitution is possible if they're later found to be wrongly convicted.
The sooner the death penalty is retired, the sooner this moral burden can be lifted from our shoulders.