Most everyone knows about Murphy’s Law that states, “Anything That Can Possibly Go Wrong, Does,” and this is the start of a blog about wrongful convictions. In a series about those wrongfully convicted, many topics will be reviewed, from false identification to ineffective lawyers, to victims of prejudice (The San Antonio Four), to those badgered into false confessions, and to those who lie to protect themselves.
Case in point, shown below is Gary Dotson, the first person to be released, post-conviction, using DNA forensics. Of course, his release could be considered a triumph, but the real accomplishment should be declared as a result of the accuser’s conscience that finally got the best of her. An old Chinese proverb states, “A clear conscience is the greatest armor.” Dotson was lucky, though. Four years into his sentence of 25 to 50 years for rape, Cathleen Cromwell Webb, came forward to declare her story was completely fabricated – “out of fear that she might be pregnant by her boyfriend.” Yup, she lied to protect herself and sent an innocent man to prison. Her confession was not believed and it took DNA to exonerate her.
Before her death in 2008, Ms. Webb co-wrote a book entitled, “Forgive Me” and “reportedly gave Dotson more than $17,000 in proceeds from its sale.” I guess she eased her conscience before her death. Can you imagine being convicted of a crime you didn’t commit? Can you imagine the stigma your family might have to endure? Moreover, imagine yourself imprisoned for a crime you never committed? True despair. How would you handle it?
It’s a true convergence of events that adds up to zero for those who become trapped in the jaws of justice. Countless stories are told like this about our prison system, about our corrupt prosecutors, about lawyers who purposely withhold evidence, and about the “great skepticism by both prosecutors’, police and the general public” who become the judge and jury of those exonerated. However, the stigma never quite goes away for those who have lost a portion of their lives behind bars. But there is always triumph when adversity is overcome and Gary Dotson triumphed.
Next in this series, “The Father of Forensic DNA,” Alec Jeffreys, and the importance of his skepticism regarding a person who was coerced into confessing. It will be about Jeffrey’s personal trials and tribulations and his push to establish this new forensic science that consequently gained the release of many wrongly accused.
“That it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than one innocent Person should suffer, is a Maxim that has been long and generally approved,” – Benjamin Frnanklin
Below is an interview with one of the founders of the Innocence Project, Barry Scheck.
By Sharla Esparza