Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Innocent man freed after 20 years in prison

This morning I watched a live interview with Steven Barnes, a man who was released from prison in upstate New York yesterday, after serving 20 years behind bars for a rape and murder he did not commit. New DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project led a state judge to throw out the conviction. When asked how he was doing and what he planned to do next he responded simply, "I'm going to take it one day at a time." I couldn't help but think about what he really wanted to say. Hmmm, let's see. I just spent the last 20 years of my life behind bars for a crime I didn't commit, the best years of my life by the way, my twenties and thirties. I'm now 42 years old, flat broke, and I live with my mom. I have no prospects for employment and no skills that would make me employable. I was forced to turn gay out of fear and necessity, and now my butt hurts and I'm completely confused about my own sexuality. I haven't had a decent night's sleep or meal in over two decades, and I can't look at myself in the mirror without crying. But other than that I'm great. Oh and what do I plan to do next? I plan to sue the shit out of the state of New York, that's what.

The really sad thing is that convicting innocent people for crimes they didn't commit has become a regular occurrence in New York state. Through the work of the Innocence Project, 23 people have been exonerated in the state of New York through DNA testing, and 10 of those wrongful convictions involved invalid or improper forensic science. In a report released last year, the Innocence Project concluded that New York State leads the nation in wrongful convictions overturned with DNA testing but lags behind other states in enacting policy reforms to make the criminal justice system more fair and effective. The New York State Bar Association Task Force on Wrongful Convictions is studying this issue, and will issue its report to the NYSBA House of Delegates in January. “Steven Barnes’ case is a reminder that wrongful convictions are very much a reality in New York State, and that very few of the reforms that prevent wrongful convictions – and simultaneously help catch real perpetrators – have been implemented in New York,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law.

Eyewitness testimony at the Barnes trial was shaky (eyewitnesses testified that they saw Barnes in town on the evening of the murder, and that they may have seen Barnes and Kimberly Simon, the victim, together – but no witnesses could say with certainty that Barnes ever met Simon, let alone that they saw him with her on the night of the murder), but forensic testimony linked him to the crime and ultimately led to the conviction. The forensic evidence included testimony that soil on Barnes’ truck tires was similar to soil at the crime scene and testimony that an imprint on the outside of Barnes’ truck matched the fabric pattern on a particular brand of jeans the victim wore when she was killed. It's important to note that neither soil comparison nor jean pattern imprinting is considered scientifically valid.

What's up New York? You convicted this poor guy of rape and murder because of mud on his tires and a jean pattern that could've been left by anyone? WTF - you got better things to do with your time up there than give people fair trials? If this keeps up you're gonna have to steal the "Don't Mess with..." slogan from Texas. And to think you call yourself a blue state? Until you fix up your clearly flawed criminal justice system you'll remain purple in my book. Wow.

1 comment:

Caber said...

Check out this article and series from the Texas Monthly. This wrongful conviction is not only for New Yorkers. Keep up the good writing.