Monday, May 21, 2007

Guilty Now, It Seems

Back in February, I wrote a piece about a man who had been exonerated after having spent 18 years in prison for a 1985 rape that he didn't commit, but stood accused of murder from 2005. I'd let the case slip my mind, and forgot to go back and see how things were shaping up until just today. Well, he was convicted of the 2005 killing back in March, and is now awaiting sentencing. But that's not the end. The man's 17 year old nephew was convicted last month of accepting his uncle's invitation to rape the victim (it seems this may have been the uncle's way of initiating the boy into sex), and helping the older man kill her. It turns out that he'd made a long confession, but later tried to recant it.

It's kind of a creepy case, and one that raises some questions. If we assume that he IS guilty this time, it becomes tempting to view the man's prior conviction as having SOME grounding in fact. While he wasn't guilty of the specific crime that he'd been convicted of, it seems possible that the police may have had valid reasons for suspecting him. Of course, on the other side of the coin you have the idea that the system "created" a sex criminal where there hadn't been one before, by placing him behind bars for nearly two decades. Once you've done the time, do you lose some inhibitions against doing the crime?

On the other hand, what if lightning has hit the same place twice? Okay, so they have the nephew's confession - police have been known to coerce or trick confessions out of suspects before, and teenagers seem to be more pliant in this way than adults. What if the man's defense was the truth? That the same Sheriff's department that helped put him away the first time went for another bite of the apple - and made sure they had an ironclad case this time around.

And is this going to make people think twice about exoneration projects? I wonder if this is the first case of someone who'd been found to be innocent was then later convicted of another equally or more serious offense? How many cases like would it take before the public began to look sideways at the effort?

I'm really curious as to what actually went down, in 1985 and in 2005. It's a pity that we'll never know.

No comments: