When people hear about wrongfully convicted prisoners, they often ask why these individuals end up spending so much time in prison before they are exonerated. For the wrongfully convicted, the judicial system has failed twice - once in winning the wrongful conviction, but also in intentionally delaying exoneration for as long as possible.
Innocent prisoners suffer from delayed justice in different ways. For some of us, justice has proved so elusive due to stall tactics and prosecutors who do not want the truth to come out. Some of us have DNA claims that would immediately exonerate us if the tests were actually carried out, but the prosecutors argue against it for years. Take Jeffrey Deskovic's nightmare, for example. Mr. Deskovic spent sixteen years in prison for a murder he had nothing to do with. For years, the prosecutor and judges in his case denied him the right to take a DNA test. When he did get to take the test, it exonerated him.
Derrick Hamilton spent twenty-one years in prison for a crime he never committed. Mr. Hamilton had an alibi and was not even in the state when the crime occurred. His cries of innocence fell on deaf ears, and for over two decades he fought to clear his name. A detective in his case came under investigation for dirty tactics in obtaining his arrests, which helped Mr. Hamilton, whose case went on to have a landmark ruling in the New York courts. It took twenty-one years.
Eugene Gilyard spent almost two decades in prison for a crime of which he was innocent. False, circumstantial evidence got him a natural life sentence. The true killer came forth and confessed, yet this was not good enough for the prosecutor, who fought against Mr. Gilyard's innocence all the way up to the actual beginning of his new trial. At the last minute, the prosecutor dropped the case.
A lot of times, the evidence that can show our innocence resides in parts of our case discovery that were not turned over to our trial attorneys. At this very moment, I'm a victim of these tactics. Once again, innocence is being overlooked, and stalled justice is in full effect, instead of my prosecutor admitting that my rights were violated by his office. This has led to me being in prison for twenty years for a crime I never committed. My prosecutor's argument against my innocence claim is that I filed my appeal too late. This is what is taking place in our judicial system. This is the same prosecutor who met with my attorneys and promised to do a "good faith" investigation. After he filed almost two years of uncontested continuances, instead of addressing my innocence, he simply said my appeal was filed too late.
I could go on for days with examples of how justice is constantly being delayed for innocent prisoners. Sometimes our own attorneys agree to these prosecutors' motions for continuances, in the hope that when the allotted time expires, the prosecutors will do what's right. That rarely occurs, and most times, the prosecutors use this time to come up with a sound strategy to combat our innocence. Sick, right?
When they are finally free, some exonerees do get compensated financially for decades of being held in a cage for crimes they never committed. But some states don't even offer any type of re-entry or financial assistance to exonerees upon their release. That's pretty much like opening a prison and releasing an innocent prisoner after years, saying: "Go get your life together by any means you can."
A couple years ago, I watched a T.V. talk show that featured exoneree Michael Morton. Mr. Morton spoke on how the judicial system failed him by withholding evidence of his innocence. What really caught my attention was how the host said that, since Mr. Morton was being compensated, his life should be all right now. Mr. Morton answered this by saying: "I'll tell you what, I want you to go to prison for the amount of time I've done, for a crime you didn't commit, then when you come home - I'm going to give you a check." The host quickly turned down that proposal. The moral here is that there's no price tag on a human being freedom.
Through all of the stalling and delay tactics that innocent prisoners face, we continue to fight to prove our innocence. When the judicial system that is supposed to protect us continues to fail us and our families, and when we have evidence to clear us of these crimes that goes ignored, it's extremely hard to keep our sanity. When will this all stop? Until it does, we'll continue to hurry up and wait for justice.
Lorenzo Johnson served 16 and a half years of a life-without-parole sentence, from 1995 to 2012, when the Third Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled there was legally insufficient evidence for his conviction. He remained free for four months, after which the US Supreme Court unanimously reinstated the conviction and ordered Lorenzo back to prison to resume the sentence. With the help of Michael Wiseman, Esq., The Pennsylvania Innocence Project, The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, The Campaign to Free Lorenzo Johnson, and others, he is continuing to fight for his freedom. Email him or sign his petition and learn more at: http://www.freelorenzojohnson.org/sign-the-petition.html.