David Frank, of Boston’s Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, has reported this week on a story that has become achingly familiar. It involves the issue of the wrongfully convicted.
Ulysses C. (hereinafter, the “Defendant”) is now 59 years old. On May 17, 2001, he was released from prison after serving 19 years of an 80 year sentence for unlawful confinement, rape and robbery. He was released from custody after DNA testing on the physical evidence used against him exonerated him of the crimes for which he was convicted.
But, then, what does “exonerated” really mean? Does it clear a man’s name? Can it give him back the nineteen years he unjustly lost at the hands of the Commonwealth?
In recent years, a number of criminal defendants have been convicted, only to be released after having served many years, after DNA evidence was discovered which showed that they were not, in fact, guilty.
Interestingly, District Attorneys still try to fight attempts by convicted defendants to have DNA tested for some reason, which is odd given their sworn oath to “do Justice”.
The office of the top law enforcement agencies in various counties and states and their zeal to keep convictions at any cost aside, the legislature has now made an attempt to give those lucky few who have been able to have DNA evidence tested after trial, and have been shown to be wrongfully convicted, some hope at some redemption.
Chapter 258D of the Massachusetts General Laws, the state’s wrongful conviction compensation statute was enacted in 2004 in response to the increasing number of post-trial exonerations of convicted felons. It was under this law that the Defendant, after a three-week jury trial, as well as two days of jury deliberations, was found “innocent”, as opposed to simply “not guilty” on April 21st. Specifically, the jury agreed that the Defendant had “proved by clear and convincing evidence that he did not commit the crime or crimes for which he was convicted in 1984. ”
Because of the verdict, the Defendant could collect as much as $500,000 in damages, the exact amount to be determined at a later hearing.
That is worth it, isn’t it? After all, the Defendant only ended up having to serve 19 years of his 80 year sentence in the place he described as “hell”. Ok, so he had to hear while behind bars about the suicide of his teenage daughter…but his conviction was eventually vacated when the DNA testing revealed that previously undisclosed semen found on a victim’s bed sheets and robe did not belong to him.
Of course, the Defendant is reported to have gotten more satisfaction from something other than the potential monetary reward.
” I got back my good name”.
In comparison to that, according to Mr. Frank’s article, the fact that this was the first time a Massachusetts jury had come back with a verdict under the wrongful conviction compensation statute meant little as he left the courtroom. Instead, he anxiously sought out his 79-year-old-mother, who was sitting in the hallway, unable to bear the pressure of the moment.
Now there is some recognition to help her accept the loss of her son for 19 years, as well as the suicide of her granddaughter.
When the Defendant tried to tell his mother the good news, however, he remained silent. He was unable to speak.
“I went to open my mouth, and I couldn’t say anything,” he recalls. “I became ill. I just had a breakdown, a physical breakdown. ”
Martha Coakley, the Commonwealth’s Attorney General, who’s office defended the case, and the Defendant’s conviction, said in a written statement, that her office is still reviewing its options regarding an appeal.
“In this particular case, after a thorough evaluation of the presently available scientific evidence, it was the opinion of this office that such evidence did not prove the plaintiff’s innocence when weighed against the evidence which led to his original conviction,” the AG wrote. “Based upon the evaluation of the evidence, it was the opinion of this office that this case should not be settled and that the plaintiff should present his evidence in a court of law. ”
Apparently, there was no comment about the previously unrevealed, and presumably previously untested, semen that has now led to the exoneration.
Did you think I was kidding when I said that the “Justice – seeking” prosecutors are opposing the DNA examinations and are not too happy with these unfortunate and inconvenient exonerations?
Attorney Sam’s take:
Be assured that, even when a wrongfully convicted defendant is exonerated by the examination of DNA evidence, the attempt to gain any recompense as the Defendant did is, to say the least, an uphill battle. This is evident by the fact that this was the first such verdict under the 2004 statute.
Recent discoveries, such as DNA testing, have made a huge impact on criminal justice. Usually, it is used by the Commonwealth to aid a prosecution…which makes its inclination to combat a convicted defendant’s interest in testing untested DNA evidence even more disturbing.
The handling and understanding of scientific evidence is critical in today’s criminal defense, particularly in matters involving felonies such as murder and rape. In these types of cases, it is even more critical that an experienced defense attorney is retained to defend you.
As with many issues in criminal justice, DNA evidence is not as simple and straightforward as you might assume. There are, indeed, challenges that can be brought against the evidence and the way that evidence is presented and/or challenged can make the difference between a conviction and an acquittal.
Most prosecutors presenting such evidence are not intent upon convicting innocent people. They are, however, like defense attorneys, advocates. They are also human beings who, often, while supposedly held to a higher standard, face the pressures of office policy and the desire to win.
Do not count on them to simply present evidence in an unbiased manner. Count on your own attorney…and make that attorney one with the experience and skill necessary to zealously defend you.
The full articles of this story can be found at http://www.correctionsone.com/corrections/articles/1833851-In-hell-for-18-years-Boston-man-now-vindicated/