This Christmas season while counting our blessings and enjoying the comforts of family, take a moment to say a prayer for the tens of thousands of innocent Americans who will watch the passing of another year from comfortless prison cells.
Among these many is Christophe Yves Gaynor. In my considered opinion, Mr. Gaynor was framed by a corrupt prosecutor and railroaded by a corrupt judge. Mr. Gaynor was a skateboard coach in Virginia who took his team to a New York competition. One of the team members attempted to purchase drugs. To restrain him, Mr. Gaynor threatened to tell his parents. The boy struck first by accusing Mr. Gaynor of molesting him. The entire team knew the charge to be false, but the improprieties of the trial defeated justice.
Another innocent is Carl Graf. When he declined a woman's sexual advances, the spurned woman accused him of molesting her son.
Because of religious scruples, Anthony Kovaleski refused to testify against his wife, prompting angry police to concoct charges against him.
Conservatives have hardened their hearts against the wrongfully convicted. Mistakes happen, they admit, but they believe most mistakes result from liberal judges letting the guilty go free.
Conservatives are right that the guilty often go free, but the reason is that the innocent are convicted in their place. Justice is no longer a concern of the justice system. Careers depend on conviction rates. It is easier for police and prosecutors to get convictions by piling charges on a convenient suspect until they coerce a plea than to solve a case and find the truth.
Mary Sue Terry, former attorney general of the Commonwealth of Virginia, has this to say: "Our concern has turned from seeking truth to seeking convictions, and our post-conviction efforts are focused on denying any further review."
Judges have written to me in response to the book, The Tyranny of Good Intentions, that I coauthored with Larry Stratton about the breakdown of our justice system. They confirm that injustice is often served by the justice system
As one of the few columnists who writes about wrongful convictions, I receive numerous pleas for help. It is impossible for me to investigate and write about the many cases. All I can hope to accomplish is to make the public aware that once conviction replaces truth as the goal of the justice system, no one is safe. Sources of help for the wrongfully convicted can be found at www.truthinjustice.org.
With the advent of DNA evidence, every week we learn of new cases of wrongful conviction. People on death row and people who have spent most of their lives in prison are being released as DNA evidence proves them to be innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted: Albert Wesley Brown, imprisoned 18 years in Oklahoma; Marvin L. Anderson, imprisoned 15 years in Virginia; Jeffrey Todd Pierce, imprisoned 15 years in Oklahoma. The list far exceeds the length of this column.
Forensic evidence, once thought to be conclusive, has turned out to be unreliable and fraudulent. From time to time we see news reports of forensic experts whose work has fallen under suspicion: Pamela Fish in Illinois, Fred Zain in West Virginia. One, Joyce Gilchrist, a 21-year veteran of the Oklahoma City police forensic lab, is under investigation by Oklahoma authorities, the FBI and a federal grand jury. Of her cases, 112 have been set aside for scrutiny, with 500 more to be reopened.
In 9 of 10 Gilchrist cases being examined by the federal grand jury, the defendants have already been executed.
As a result of new tests, DNA evidence has unsettled many police and prosecutor offices. Recently in Arlington, Virginia, which in my opinion has one of the least reliable justice systems in the U.S., the chief deputy clerk of the county circuit court destroyed the DNA evidence and alleged murder weapon in a death penalty case under appeal.
The defendant's lawyer is astonished that "where a person's life is at stake, the government is of the view it can destroy the evidence with impunity and say, 'Yes, we destroyed the evidence, so what?'"
Another festering scandal is prosecutors who pay "snitches" with money or dropped charges to produce testimony that can be used to convict other defendants. Most often, the testimony is false, but the prosecutor has his "evidence."
Yes, there are some honest police, prosecutors and judges. But the pressures they are under to match the conviction rates of the corrupt and to clear court dockets will eventually leave our justice system entirely in the hands of a heartless breed that never suffers the pangs of a bad conscience.
Paul Craig Roberts is the author (with Lawrence M. Stratton) of The New Color Line : How Quotas and Privilege Destroy Democracy
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