Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Innocence Project

I watch CourtTV just about every night between midnight and 2 a.m. - This past Sunday I watched one of the "Stories of the Innocence Project" (I think I've seen all of the other installments of the show to date). This particular episode was about a man named Stephan Cowans. He was convicted of shooting a police officer (got 35-50 yrs.) based upon a fingerprint at the scene and eyewitness testimony (the police officer identified out of a lineup - or so they say - him 2 weeks post-shooting, and another witness near the scene also picked Cowans out of a lineup). Trouble is, the fingerprint wasn't his. Here's a little blurb from his case file at The Innocence Project:

On May 30, 1997, an officer of the Boston Police Department was shot twice with his own service weapon in the backyard of a house in Jamaica Plain following a short struggle with an unknown assailant. The assailant fired an additional shot at an individual who was standing in the window of a second floor bedroom. The assailant ran from the scene, leaving the baseball hat he was wearing. He forcibly entered a nearby home, where he stopped to drink from a glass of water. The assailant then fled, leaving both the gun and the sweatshirt he had been wearing.

You see, it turns out that the fingerprint that was collected off the glass of water belonged to the OWNER OF THE HOUSE. Nice. The DNA in the baseball hat, shirt, and on the glass did not match that of Cowans. Nice. This, of course, was not even tested until 6.5 years AFTER he was convicted. Nice. Stephan's mother died while he was incarcerated. Nice. He didn't get to attend her funeral and she did not live to see her son's exhoneration. Nice.

Don't you just LOVE our justice system? We have men and women sitting in prisons throughout the country for crimes they didn't commit...with DNA evidence that could prove their innocence just sitting there waiting to be tested...and many states have all but outlawed the testing of DNA evidence post-conviction. Why might that be, I wonder?!? We wouldn't want to tarnish the spotless record of our justice system by admitting that some people are wrongfully convicted, so we'll just let them rot in prison instead because of our own stupidity/ego. Lovely.

Land of the free, eh?