Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Illinois Convicts Real Killer 14 Years After Wrongfully Convicted Man Is Released

TalkLeft told Timothy Cole's sad story in this post. Cole was convicted of a rape he didn't commit on the strength of a mistaken eyewitness identification. The rapist, Jerry Wayne Johnson, confessed nine years after Cole went to prison. The Texas judges who heard about it ignored the confession. Cole died in prison 13 years into his sentence. He was posthumously exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence.

As that post noted, the district attorney who convicted Cole didn't seem terribly remorseful. That isn't true of Michelle Mallin, the rape victim who was victimized once by Johnson and a second time by the criminal justice system that staked its entire case on her identification while ignoring evidence that a serial rapist was still on the loose. She spent years in counseling after the rape, and she's back in counseling now, having learned that her testimony sent the wrong man to prison.


Last summer, I was forced to relive the entire nightmare — this time with the added tragedy of knowing that Timothy Cole had been innocent and died in prison before he could be exonerated. New DNA testing proved that another man, not Cole, raped me. I was stunned. And I was determined to get answers.

I put my faith in the criminal justice system, and it failed me. ... I have learned a great deal over the last year — about myself, about Cole and about our system of justice. One of the most troubling things I've learned is that juries often hear evidence that is not as solid as it sounds.

Mallin points out that she and Cole were not the only victims of a system that stopped looking for the truth after she identified Cole.

Cole and I weren't the only ones whose lives were forever changed by what happened in 1985. We now know, through DNA testing and his own confession, that Jerry Wayne Johnson raped me. After Cole was convicted, Johnson abducted a couple and raped the woman in a cotton field. When he was out on bond awaiting trial for that rape, he raped a 15-year old girl at knifepoint.

Eventually, Johnson was convicted for those crimes. But they could have been prevented entirely if he had been apprehended after he raped me. It's hard for me to think about that woman and her husband, or that 15-year-old girl. I know what they went through — and, today, we know that they could have been spared the unspeakable horror.

Sometimes crime victims who mistakenly identify a suspect refuse to acknowledge their error, even when evidence of the suspect's innocence becomes indisputable. Mallin is a better person than that. She wants to make sure other crime victims and other wrongly accused suspects don't have to suffer. That's why she wants to see convictions based on hard science.

Earlier this year, the National Academy of Sciences released a major report finding serious problems with much of the forensic science that our criminal justice system uses every day. The report urged Congress to create a National Institute of Forensic Science to oversee research that can determine how accurate these scientific disciplines are, set standards for what kind of science should be used and how it should be presented, and oversee the enforcement of those standards.

We need to make sure our criminal justice system uses reliable, solid evidence to accurately identify suspects and convict criminals. Right now, forensic science is badly lacking, but creating a National Institute of Forensic Science can start to change that. The stakes are too high to do anything less.

TalkLeft discussed the National Academy of Sciences' report on forensic science in this post. Kudos to Mallin for her efforts to make something positive out of her tragic experiences.


1 comment:

sandra said...

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