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May 31, 2009 - Ray Hall (Archive)
America’s criminal justice system is so badly broken that it can no longer be trusted to deliver justice. To be sure we put more people in jail today than before. One in every 31 Americans, over 7.3 million citizens was in jail, on probation or parole in 2007. Although black men comprise only 6% of our overall population black men make up nearly 60% of the prison population. But, here’s the kicker—we are putting the innocent in prison and for a long time. Since 2001 in Dallas County in Texas 20 men have been freed for crimes they did not commit after serving long prison terms—one man freed recently served 27 years for a rape he did not commit. Since 1971 more than 130 people have had death sentences overturned, 17 by DNA evidence.

There is blame aplenty; from police investigations or the lack thereof to overzealous and malicious prosecutions, to lazy and inept judges and perhaps the biggest culprit of all—the lack of discernment by ordinary folks. We clamor for arrests and always demand a fair trial before we hang the horse thief. People listen to cable television programs like Nancy Grace who has seemingly talked forever about the pitiful death of a young Florida girl and brayed about the guilt of the mother. Mention Lasi Peterson or Drew Peterson and chances are good that a complete stranger can distinguish between the cases.

In the 90’s New York State Police Trooper David Harding when asked in a CIA interview if he would be willing to break the law to protect his country boasted that he had fabricated evidence in cases were he believed suspects guilty. The CIA was not impressed and turned him in. The Harding case uncovered similar corruption that led to the arrest of several state troopers including Lt. Craig Harvey, a sixteen-year veteran of the force for planting and falsifying evidence.

Locally, the prosecution of the Kathy Wilson murder in a Warren County Pennsylvania courtroom was not only a legally cruel and monstrous joke but a societal one as well. However, the Wilson case is not an isolated case of prosecutorial ineptness and police malfeasance. Curtis McCarty was freed from an Oklahoma prison after more than 21 years—16 years on death row—when his conviction was thrown out by a higher court and DNA testing subsequently revealed that semen and hairs found at the crime scene were not his. The people who should have been imprisoned was District Attorney Robert H. Macy, the man who prosecuted the case twice and Joyce Gilchrist, an Oklahoma County lab analyst.

In his 21 years as an Oklahoma County prosecutor Macy sent 73 men to death row—20 of whom were executed—and publicly boasted that it was worth an innocent man being executed to preserve the death penalty. Joyce Gilchrist was fired in 2001 for the fraud she committed in the McCarty case and was involved in at least two other cases that were thrown out because of her misbehavior. Again, we need not look far a field: Buffalo resident Anthony Capozzi was freed after spending 22 years for being the notorious Buffalo bike path rapist and murderer. DNA subsequently freed Lynn DeJac for the murder of her daughter. The Buffalo woman was convicted in 1994 of strangling her daughter after a party of drugs and bar hopping.

Nationally known figures like former Attorney General Janet Reno, only in office two weeks when Waco blew up, made her reputation for prosecuting sexual abuse cases against children in Florida. After years of determined reporting the Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz uncovered that the basis of her prosecutions for child sex abusers that gave her national notoriety were phony.

Confidence must be restored in our justice system. Police departments need to quit spending money on SWAT teams and increase training for investigative officers from robbery to homicide and video taping should be standard operating procedure for every interrogation. Police and prosecutors must be held accountable for misbehavior and commission of crimes to obtain convictions and not by Civil Service hearings and the ballot box alone, but by swift and certain punishment. Juries should be instructed that eye witness accounts can be unreliable, Judges must scrutinize search warrants more carefully and be more eager to disallow the introduction of questionable evidence.

However, the ultimate arbitrator must be the people. We have allowed law enforcement and our courts—I would be in favor of eliminating the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms), the Agency that bungled Waco and Ruby Ridge and we must end the “drug war." We must refuse to listen to loud, law and order candidates—District Attorneys and Judges—who would lock them up and throw away the key. We must demand that forensic crime labs be disconnected from law enforcement whether it is the New York State Police lab doing DWI tests at Olean or the FBI forensic lab in Washington D.C.

To achieve justice, regardless how heinous the crime, we must embrace the notion that every person is innocent until proven guilty and that the state have a heavy burden to prove guilt. For starters we must immediately abolish the death penalty, no civilized person can convincingly argue that the innocent have not been executed.


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