As an innocent prisoner and an avid writer on wrongful convictions, I've not only been affected personally by crooked officers of the court who sabotaged my exoneration for twenty years--I've also witnessed the record numbers of other innocent prisoners that have recently been exonerated. And let me not leave out the ones who cannot afford the legal representation needed to prove their innocence. It's a staggering number--they're all around me.
The innocent do not want pity. We want you to align yourself with us in our pursuit of justice. We are, and have been, paying a debt that does not belong to us. Unfortunately, some of us have paid with our lives for being innocent.
It's not a surprise that change is needed to protect the innocent from going to prison. Dialogue about the corruption that causes wrongful convictions has been going on for years. But when will our judicial system hold officers of the court accountable when they're found responsible for the incarceration of an innocent person? As I've written before, until officers of the court be held fully accountable, wrongful convictions are here to stay.
Many people have wondered whether the criminal justice system was intentionally constructed to fail the poor. Take the case of Anthony Wright, who was charged and convicted of rape, murder and robbery. Mr. Wright barely escaped the death penalty and was sentenced to natural life (life without parole) over twenty-five years ago. Mr. Wright's court-appointed attorney was paid just $1,800 to take his case. This is fact, not fiction. $1,800 would make any counsel inept in a capital murder case. Fast forward to twenty-five years later: Mr. Wright is found not guilty in his new trial with the help of the Innocence Project, which uncovered fabricated evidence as well as DNA evidence that did not match Mr. Wright.
Mr. Wright's case is shocking and I hope it will further open the eyes of society to what is taking place in the world of innocent prisoners. The jury that acquitted Mr. Wright in his second trial waited outside the courthouse for hours to hug him and tell the media what a farce his imprisonment was. I've never known of a homicide jury to do this. Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Nina Morrison stated, "Judging by the treatment that Mr. Wright has endured, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office has no intention of learning how this tragic miscarriage of justice occurred or how to prevent future injustice."
It's the same pattern of misconduct, in exoneration after exoneration. When will there be accountability for the officers of the court who are responsible? Until penalties are enacted, it's "open season" on innocent people in society, and killers can roam freely. Twenty years ago it was me--today it could be you or a loved one. It needs to stop now.
Lorenzo Johnson served 16 and a half years of a life-without-parole sentence until 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 him back to prison to resume the sentence. With the support of The Pennsylvania Innocence Project, he is continuing to fight for his freedom. Though he does not have internet access himself, you can email his campaign, make a donation, or sign his petition and learn more at: http://www.freelorenzojohnson.org/sign-the-petition.html.