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DNA frees man who spent almost 23 years in prison for rape
The Associated Press ^ | April 16, 2008 | Jeff Carlton

Posted on 04/16/2008 7:28:06 PM PDT by Strategerist

After spending nearly 23 years in prison for a rape he did not commit, Thomas Clifford McGowan on Wednesday heard the words that set him free.

"Words cannot express how sorry I am for the last 23 years," said state District Judge Susan Hawk, moments after overturning his convictions. "I believe you can walk out of here a free man."

McGowan, 49, won his freedom after a DNA test this month proved what he had always professed: that he did not rape a Dallas-area woman in 1985 and then burglarize her apartment. He was convicted of both crimes in separate trials in 1985 and 1986 and sentenced to life each time. The primary evidence against him turned out to be misidentification by the rape victim.

"I've been living a life of a living hell and my nightmare is finally over with," McGowan said after the hearing. "This is the first day of my life. I'm going to go forward."

Hawk's ruling, which now must be affirmed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, makes McGowan the 17th Dallas man since 2001 to have his conviction cast aside because of DNA testing. That's the most of any county in the nation, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center that specializes in overturning wrongful convictions.

Overall, 31 people have been formally exonerated through DNA testing in Texas, also a national high. That does not include McGowan and at least two others whose exonerations will not become official until Gov. Rick Perry grants pardons or the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issues its rulings.

The crowded courtroom included dozens of McGowan's relatives. Also attending were three Dallas County men who had been wrongly convicted and eventually exonerated by DNA testing. They greeted McGowan with handshakes and hugs, and one gave him a $100 bill to "get him started."

McGowan, wearing a button-down shirt and slacks, looked trim and relieved. He said he prayed frequently and was benefiting from some "powerful forces." While in prison, one of McGowan's sisters died, and he said he missed watching his sibling's children grow up.

"I know God forgives, so hey, I've got to forgive, too," McGowan said. "It's not going to benefit me to be harboring anger or resentment."

McGowan's wrongful imprisonment began in May 1985 when a Richardson woman returned home and came upon a burglar in her apartment. The man bound her hands with his belt, raped her at knifepoint and then loaded his car with several items stolen from her apartment, according to court documents.

Police eventually presented the woman with a photo array of seven men. She picked out McGowan's photo, saying she "thought" he was the attacker. But police told her she had to be certain and "couldn't just think it was him," she testified in court. It was then that she said McGowan was "definitely" the attacker, according to court documents.

Just a few words from a police officer can significantly influence whether a witness identifies the wrong person, Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck said.

"It's not that the police officer involved in this matter was intentionally doing anything wrong. He wasn't," Scheck said. "That kind of a forced choice response ... is very, very damaging."

More exonerations are expected in Dallas County, where District Attorney Craig Watkins has set up a program in which law students, supervised by the Innocence Project of Texas, are reviewing hundreds of cases in which convicts have requested DNA testing to prove their innocence. About 10 Dallas County cases are in various stages of investigations and DNA testing, and another exoneration is likely within the next few weeks, prosecutors said.

Watkins said he plans to lobby other prosecutors to put in place similar programs.

"This should not be a pilot program that lasts two or three years," Watkins said.

The DNA from McGowan's case yielded a full profile that is now being run through state and federal databases, assistant prosecutor Mike Ware said. If a match is found, it could identify the true rapist.


TOPICS: News/Current Events; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: dna; innocent; rape
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Yet another victim misidentification - with the rise of routine DNA testing should hopefully run out of these but it's going to take decades.

I'm not in favor of the press hectoring the victims asking about it but I always wonder how they deal with the mistaken IDs mentally. Most, as in this case, are steered towards the ID by the police, so not like it's entirely their fault.

1 posted on 04/16/2008 7:28:06 PM PDT by Strategerist
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To: Strategerist
According to some FReepers who hold a firm belief in the Immaculate Conviction, no matter what the crime, this is impossible.

Hang him. Slowly.

And let his blood be on their heads.

2 posted on 04/16/2008 7:34:05 PM PDT by Clint Williams (Read Roto-Reuters -- we're the spinmeisters!)
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To: Strategerist
This is a great thing to do. If we are hell-bent to spend money, rather than foreign aid, we should encourage private and public monies to be spent on such cases.
3 posted on 04/16/2008 7:34:26 PM PDT by ConservativeMind
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To: Strategerist

Next, we’ll learn that the rape didn’t even take place!


4 posted on 04/16/2008 7:34:46 PM PDT by Revolting cat! ("I am like...Dude......do you really....like want the Sex?")
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To: Strategerist
I'm not in favor of the press hectoring the victims asking about it but I always wonder how they deal with the mistaken IDs mentally.

I am. An innocent man lost half his adult life because of this woman. I want her, the cops, and the prosecution held to account. If that means reporters camped out on their front lawns for the next 5 years, so be it.

5 posted on 04/16/2008 7:35:17 PM PDT by lesser_satan (Vote McCain - The Choice who Sucks Less!)
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To: Strategerist

I hope the guy sues the hell out of the woman who accused him and the prosecutor who put him in jail.


6 posted on 04/16/2008 7:36:06 PM PDT by KoRn (CTHULHU '08 - I won't settle for a lesser evil any longer!)
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To: Strategerist

Why did it take so many years to test his DNA, when DNA testing has been around many years time now?


7 posted on 04/16/2008 7:36:24 PM PDT by dragnet2
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To: Clint Williams

I’ve noticed some people get really annoyed by these stories.

There was one guy that was absolutely convinced that all these people were actually guilty but they were “chimeras” (had two types of DNA, which is beyond insanely rare.)


8 posted on 04/16/2008 7:36:38 PM PDT by Strategerist
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To: dragnet2

Er....Why did it take so many years to test his DNA, when DNA testing has been around so many years now?


9 posted on 04/16/2008 7:38:10 PM PDT by dragnet2
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To: Strategerist

Unless the victim knows their attacker, witness ID is perhaps the most unreliable evidence allowed to be introduced in a courtroom. As a coach, it took me three baseball practices to be able to tell two kids apart who weren’t related to each other. I kept calling Michael “Isaac,” and Isaac “Michael.” I still have to look really close to tell who I’m talking to.


10 posted on 04/16/2008 7:38:45 PM PDT by highimpact (Abortion - [n]: human sacrifice at the altar of convenience.)
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To: Clint Williams
And on whose heads is the blood of the victims of those who are “wrongfully freed”?

That happens a heck of lot more (according to the recidivism rate) than the way this story turned out.

11 posted on 04/16/2008 7:40:20 PM PDT by MrB (You can't reason people out of a position that they didn't use reason to get into in the first place)
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To: Strategerist

Does DNA evidence degenerate?


12 posted on 04/16/2008 7:40:27 PM PDT by DeaconBenjamin
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To: Strategerist

These things happen every day now. Not rape and 23 years in the slammer, but false, frivolous accusations of “sexual harassment” and all the consequences of such accusations that you never read about in the papers. Talk to people, ask around if you don’t believe it, I have, there is a war going on out there!


13 posted on 04/16/2008 7:41:18 PM PDT by Revolting cat! ("I am like...Dude......do you really....like want the Sex?")
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To: lesser_satan
I am. An innocent man lost half his adult life because of this woman. I want her, the cops, and the prosecution held to account.

You have a woman that's suffered a violent rape. Not certain what you mean, but I've noticed people have trouble processing the idea that the rape victim wasn't deliberately lying - she made a mistake.

Based on the pic the guy released was black. I strongly suspect the victim was white.

Studies have actually shown that people have difficulty telling people of other races apart; most, but not all, of these cases are white women raped by black men, with the victim making a mistaken ID.

So you have a psychologically shaken and violent women being shown mugbooks by the police (who just want a conviction as fast as possible) who routinely "Steer" the victims to making an ID.

These victims come to genuinely believe they're certain about the IDs. They don't do this maliciously and cavalierly.

Let's face it - any rape trial where the victim IDs the attacker, the defendant doesn't have a prayer.

The people at fault are 1) the police 2) the prosecution and 3) juries, that don't understand the mountain of psychological research documenting the inaccuracy of eyewitnesses to crimes.

The rape victims end up victimized twice.

14 posted on 04/16/2008 7:42:13 PM PDT by Strategerist
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To: dragnet2
Why did it take so many years to test his DNA, when DNA testing has been around so many years now?

Somebody has to pay for it. The state isn't going to offer up public funds to try to exonerate somebody they paid a lot of money to convict. Therefore, it requires donations. I don't need to ask you how much you donated. It was the same amount as my donation.

15 posted on 04/16/2008 7:42:51 PM PDT by highimpact (Abortion - [n]: human sacrifice at the altar of convenience.)
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To: Revolting cat!

Um, the rape most likely happened b/c that’s where the DNA most likely came from...


16 posted on 04/16/2008 7:43:52 PM PDT by piytar
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To: highimpact

It’s also an incredibly long and involved process to appeal a conviction and get the evidence tested. DAs and such don’t exactly fall all over themselves to accomodate the process.


17 posted on 04/16/2008 7:43:59 PM PDT by Strategerist
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To: Clint Williams

I trust police about as far as I can throw them.

John


18 posted on 04/16/2008 7:44:12 PM PDT by Diggity
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To: Revolting cat!

D.N.A. EVIDENCE.....yes a rape took place.


19 posted on 04/16/2008 7:45:16 PM PDT by When do we get liberated? ((Ok, Im the official Pit Bull Defender/If you can't stand behind our troops, stand in front of them.)
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To: Strategerist

Alright, fair enough. I still want SOMEBODY, like the cops or prosecutors, to suffer for this, though.


20 posted on 04/16/2008 7:45:43 PM PDT by lesser_satan (Vote McCain - The Choice who Sucks Less!)
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To: piytar

Um, like the Duke Universaity rape, right?! Yeah, blame the police and the prosecutors, the “victim” is saintly!


21 posted on 04/16/2008 7:45:50 PM PDT by Revolting cat! ("I am like...Dude......do you really....like want the Sex?")
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To: MrB
The great Republican Lawyer, Abraham Lincoln, said that it was better that 100 guilty go free than one innocent man be jailed.

He wasn't so hot as a general, but I would retain him for a lawyer, if he weren't dead.

/johnny

22 posted on 04/16/2008 7:47:11 PM PDT by JRandomFreeper (Bless us all, each, and every one.)
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To: lesser_satan
I want her, the cops, and the prosecution held to account

I have a good friend who quit being a public defender because of the lies of the cops and prosecution. Another friend of mine had his life and health ruined over an idiot prosecutor who tried him with bogus evidence. He is dead now.

If this guy has a case, he should sue the pants off of the idiots who made his life agony. Ruin their lives, the way they ruined his.

23 posted on 04/16/2008 7:47:29 PM PDT by Nachum
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To: When do we get liberated?

Tawana Brawley.

Gerald Amirault.


24 posted on 04/16/2008 7:47:47 PM PDT by Revolting cat! ("I am like...Dude......do you really....like want the Sex?")
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To: Strategerist

This man lost half his entire life. I think something should be done to help him.

And ID by witnesses is perhaps the least reliable “evidence.”


25 posted on 04/16/2008 7:48:13 PM PDT by Firedarrow
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To: Strategerist
I’ve noticed some people get really annoyed by these stories.

People need to understand that one of the reasons for putting people in prison is to make an example of them - deterrence. So, it really doesn't matter if the person you send to prison is actually guilty or innocent. It still serves as an example so long as the mistake is never exposed.

It is appeals like this one that cause the damage.

26 posted on 04/16/2008 7:48:32 PM PDT by tear gas (Because of the 22nd Amendment, we are losing President. Bush. Can we afford to lose him now?)
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To: Revolting cat!
Yeah, blame the police and the prosecutors, the “victim” is saintly!

Like I said, people don't get it. Most of these cases are white women raped by black guys who are complete strangers.

The victims aren't liars; they're actually raped, they get shown a lineup or a mugbook, and the police pressure them to pick "somebody." In the trials the victims genuinely believe they're IDing the rapist.

27 posted on 04/16/2008 7:48:54 PM PDT by Strategerist
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To: Nachum

You know there are people on FR that believe being a criminal defense attorney is fundamentally immmoral....


28 posted on 04/16/2008 7:49:35 PM PDT by Strategerist
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To: Diggity

Did this wrongly convicted man have any sort of criminal record before this case?


29 posted on 04/16/2008 7:50:25 PM PDT by Kenny Bunk (GOP Plank: Double Domestic Crude Production. Increase refining capacity 50 percent)
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To: All
Does anyone know what precautions are taken to make sure there is absolutely no possibility of some trick or fraud involved in these tests.

I believe Barry Scheck, his associates and anti-death penalty types would have no moral qualms about pulling some trick or fraud.
There are people like magicians and card sharks that can switch objects or manipulate objects while you are closely watching them. I would feel much more comfortable if I knew for an absolute fact that every possible avenue of fraud was covered.

What if, for example, someone with access to the location where the evidence was stored from old cases was bribed or for their own reasons changed the evidence samples. The police could closely monitor the testing process and still be fooled because the original sample taken years earlier was switched.

There have been a number of these cases where there was other evidence which strongly indicated guilt and I think there are at least two cases where the “innocent” man was released and not long after being released committed a rape or murder.

30 posted on 04/16/2008 7:51:14 PM PDT by Jonah Johansen ("Coming soon to a neighborhood near you")
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To: Strategerist

People do get it and you are stating the obvious (describing the procedure), but now, after 23 years, who ism who has been the real victim here? No excuse for the rape victim, none!


31 posted on 04/16/2008 7:51:56 PM PDT by Revolting cat! ("I am like...Dude......do you really....like want the Sex?")
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To: Strategerist

The appeal process is lengthy - but not because the DAs aren’t cooperating. The prosecutor must turn over his entire casefile prior to trial. Appeals take so long because of the appellate court’s docket and scheduling.


32 posted on 04/16/2008 7:52:40 PM PDT by RebekahT ("Government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem." -- Ronald Reagan)
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To: JRandomFreeper

I wouldn’t agree with Abe on that one.

Those 100 guilty go free to harm how many future victims?

What did their victims do to deserve this?


33 posted on 04/16/2008 7:52:42 PM PDT by MrB (You can't reason people out of a position that they didn't use reason to get into in the first place)
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To: Kenny Bunk
Did this wrongly convicted man have any sort of criminal record before this case?

Eh, likely; most (but not all) of these guys have some sort of petty criminal record or scrapes with the law, hence they make it into a mugbook.

So to a lot of people it's fine to get locked away for decades for a crime you didn't commit as long as you have any criminal record at all.

34 posted on 04/16/2008 7:52:50 PM PDT by Strategerist
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To: highimpact

Let me get this straight. Some guy breaks into your house and commits unspeakable acts on you and your family. You go to a lineup a week later and see the man you are absolutely positive is the one who committed these acts. I mean, there is not one iota of doubt in your mind. If there is no other evidence, then you believe the cops should just let the guy go?


35 posted on 04/16/2008 7:54:03 PM PDT by Krankor (kROGER)
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To: Jonah Johansen

In quite a few of these cases the “real” rapist has been later found (fortunately a lot of the time they end up locked away for other crimes.)

Sometimes you just have to admit the police and prosecutors aren’t perfect, victims make mistakes, and juries are uneducated rather than falling back on “Barry Sheck and the Innocence Project are a bunch of Commie Pinko Liberals.”


36 posted on 04/16/2008 7:55:03 PM PDT by Strategerist
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To: lesser_satan
Face it. The criminal justice system in the country is fornicated. If you get in, you don't get out.

I know too many cops and lawyers to have any ideas of "justice". It's just a process, like sausage.

/johnny

37 posted on 04/16/2008 7:55:22 PM PDT by JRandomFreeper (Bless us all, each, and every one.)
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To: Clint Williams
Thank God for DNA testing. It can free an innocent man and can nab a guilty one.

Here in Illinois they caught the 2 Brown's Chicken murderers after 10 years on the loose. One of them had a meal at the place and luckily the cops saved the evidence just in case.

I surely hope if they re-institute the death penalty these two are the first to go.

38 posted on 04/16/2008 7:55:33 PM PDT by OeOeO
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To: Strategerist
Eyewitness misidentification is more common than people think. If you're an innocent man wrongly convicted, its little consolation you've lost a quarter of your life for something you never did.

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." - Manuel II Palelologus

39 posted on 04/16/2008 7:55:48 PM PDT by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives In My Heart Forever)
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To: Nachum

I don’t think we have been presented with any facts to suggest that the police and/or prosecutors intentionally charged a man they knew to be innocent. It sounds like an extremely tragic mistake.

BTW, you can’t sue the police or the prosecutors for charging and trying you just because evidence later exonerates you. Short of a “malicious prosecution” suit, it’s just a horrible, tragic mistake.


40 posted on 04/16/2008 7:57:04 PM PDT by RebekahT ("Government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem." -- Ronald Reagan)
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To: Strategerist
I agree. Eyewitness ID is notoriously unreliable, but juries and other laypeople think its the opposite, especially coming from a sympathetic victim.
41 posted on 04/16/2008 7:58:12 PM PDT by colorado tanker (Number nine, number nine, number nine . . .)
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To: Krankor
If the perp's unspeakable body fluids don't match the accused, well, yes. Rh factor, DNA, whatever.

/johnny

42 posted on 04/16/2008 7:58:48 PM PDT by JRandomFreeper (Bless us all, each, and every one.)
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To: Krankor
If there is no other evidence, then you believe the cops should just let the guy go?

If that's the ONLY evidence in a stranger rape, I'd never convict were I on a jury.

(I have been aon a jury and convicted someone of child molestation with no physical evidence and the testimony of the victim; perp was the boyfriend of the girl's grandmother. Turns out he had numerous priors for child molestation, and died of a heart attack two days after the conviction)

The basic problem here is eyewitness testimony is TERRIBLE, this has been proven again and again by psychological experiments; but the only knowledge people have of the legal system are movies and TV dramas - you NEVER see shows where an eyewitness makes a simple mistake.

43 posted on 04/16/2008 7:59:20 PM PDT by Strategerist
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To: highimpact

You are absolutely right. This is not something new. People in law enforcement and even in civil law know well, and have known well for a long time, that eyewitness testimony is both the weakest from a reliability standpoint, but the strongest in influencing a jury.
It is a bit counterintuitive, but eyewitness testimony is not nearly as credible as most think. The courts, judges, and lawyers, including prosecutors, know it too. They also know that juries are heavily influenced by such testimony.
Why the deference to such inherently unreliable testimony?
Well, courts (i.e., government) make money out it, judges cravenly defer to the jury, criminal defense lawyers scream about it, but no one listens, and prosecutors use it to advance what are often political careers thereby violating their oath of office.


44 posted on 04/16/2008 7:59:28 PM PDT by BIV (a republican is not a republic; a democrat is not democratic)
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To: Strategerist

In cases like this in Florida, the state usually approves about $50K per year in prison payment to a wrongly convicted person. I have no problem with this at all, but I think whoever is responsible for delaying a DNA test should pick up the tab from the date they first declined to test the evidence.


45 posted on 04/16/2008 8:00:05 PM PDT by Diverdogz
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To: Strategerist

What most people don’t think about when they complain about “defendant’s rights” (”What about victim’s rights?”, they say), is that when you convict the wrong person of the crime, you simultaneously let the guilty party go free.


46 posted on 04/16/2008 8:00:15 PM PDT by onguard
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To: OeOeO

DNA has convicted tens of thousands more than it’s freed.


47 posted on 04/16/2008 8:00:21 PM PDT by Strategerist
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To: RebekahT
it’s just a horrible, tragic mistake.

That is correct. And it tends to turn the alleged perp's life into a great big $h!t sandwich. And he'll have to eat on it for the rest of his life. Even if exonerated.

/johnny

48 posted on 04/16/2008 8:01:39 PM PDT by JRandomFreeper (Bless us all, each, and every one.)
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To: lesser_satan
I am. An innocent man lost half his adult life because of this woman. I want her, the cops, and the prosecution held to account. If that means reporters camped out on their front lawns for the next 5 years, so be it.

There is no such thing as an "innocent" man. He may not have been guilty of this crime, but we're all guilty of doing things or at least thinking things that are wrong.

Maybe he just wasn't punished for the right wrong, but it still might be right that he was punished. At least it wasn't wrong in that sense.

49 posted on 04/16/2008 8:01:50 PM PDT by tear gas (Because of the 22nd Amendment, we are losing President. Bush. Can we afford to lose him now?)
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To: Strategerist

We at least this isn’t the UK. When they find someone innocent on DNA and release them after 15 years, they charge them room and board.


50 posted on 04/16/2008 8:02:00 PM PDT by Malsua
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