The culture is changing.
Slowly the idea that there are innocent men imprisoned has been seeping into the consciousness of America. It's a novel idea for many of us, I think. Without having someone you love get screwed over by the system, why would anyone want to think about it? It's better to tell yourself that the convicted are guilty, and their incarceration makes all of us safer.
Through the exonerations of men like Michael Morton, Johnny Pinchback, and Anthony Graves, people are beginning to realize that sometimes the courts get it wrong, and innocent people suffer. But what will we do, when all the DNA has been tested? Will we give up then, and say “That’s it, we’ve freed all the ones we wronged!”
I don't think we're going to. This article from Dallas talks about the unusual case of Dale Duke, who you may remember was freed, not with DNA, but by the confession of his supposed victim that it had all been a lie.
Ricky Dale Wyatt was recently released after serving 31 in Texas’ prison system. Although his defense attorney back in 1981 had specifically asked for certain evidence that could show his innocence it was withheld by prosecutors, resulting in Wyatt’s conviction. This week he got to hug his daughter, who was only three when he was first incarcerated, and his granddaughter, whom he had never met.
Wyatt is not technically an exoneree. The state says that he has not proven his innocence; but he was able to prove that the state did not establish his guilt during his trial. While he’s not innocent in the eyes of the law (I think the whole ‘innocent until proven guilty thing is pretty much ignored), they are admitting that they had no right to hold him for those 31 years. He will not be eligible for compensation unless the District Attorney’s office decides to “support a claim of actual innocence”, whatever the fuck that means.
The DA’s office sat on evidence that could have resulted in this man going free back in 1981, but they are the ones who get to decide whether or not he’s ‘actually innocent’? I think they made their position on his guilt pretty obvious by keeping evidence that could have set him free from his defense lawyer. Still, Dallas DA Craig Watkins has freed many men who have been falsely convicted, and maybe he’ll help out one more.
Don't give up; don't be discouraged. The wheels of justice grind slow but fine, and it's up to us to keep them turning.