Posts tagged ‘wrongful conviction’

April 10, 2011

EXPLORING INNOCENCE (Update 3) by Angela Derrick

Tonight my soul is full. I feel both full and light at the same time, and it all has to do with the conference and the stories and music I heard and the courage and strength of spirit I witnessed.

I’ve been walking through Illustrated Truth: Expressions of Wrongful Conviction, a collection of artwork, poems, letters, and narratives created by innocent people during the time they were imprisoned. This is such a powerful experience. The words seem to reach right into me and take hold of my heart. There is much to be learned from these men and women. They are a reflection of our broken justice system.

It is a triumph that they are free, but the reality is that many of the people responsible refuse to admit their mistakes. Their stories need to be recorded and told. The world needs to know what happens when the justice system breaks down, when an innocent person gets thrown in prison. Police officers and prosecutors and others that are a part of the system need to see the effects of their actions: to see how families get torn apart; see how children grow up without parents. They need to feel what they are doing.  Illustrated Truth bridges that disconnect. 

Illustrated Truth: Expressions of Wrongful Conviction is on display at the National Underground Railroad Center in Cincinnati, Ohio from April 7, 2011 through July 9, 2011. It is a must-see exhibition.

The culmination of the conference was a concert, Let Freedom Sing, which featured exonerated formerly incarcerated individuals who are also musicians.  Eight men took to the stage: Antione Day, Darby Tillis, Eddie Lowery, Michael Austin, Raymond Towler, Tommy Doswell, William Dillon, and Ronald Cotton.  And they rocked it out. (I want to know when the album is coming out.)

I can’t help but think what if there wasn’t an Innocence Project? What if someone didn’t listen when these inmates said, “I’m innocent; I didn’t do this terrible thing they said I did?” What if? Then the world would have been robbed of these incredibly talented men. We wouldn’t know that the system was broken.  Right now there are innocent people locked up. Will you listen? 

RED! the breathrough ‘zine columnist, Angela Derrick, has been covering the major exhibition, “Illustrated Truth: Expressions of Wrongful Conviction,” currently at The Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

April 8, 2011

EXPLORING INNOCENCE by Angela Derrick

Tonight, my first dispatch forRED!, as I attend a local criminal justice conference, regards the issue I call “Exploring Innocence.” I sat in the audience of a viewing of Presumed Guilty a disturbing documentary about Mexico’s inept and downright strange judicial system.

Most defendants never see a judge; whatever is written into to the record is accepted as the facts and cannot be questioned and defense attorneys aren’t allowed to introduce new questions. It’s the proverbial “catch-22” with innocent people caught in the crosshairs.

Presumed Guilty chronicles the fight to free Antonio (Tono) Zuniga, a 26-year old street vendor who was pulled into a police vehicle and arrested for murder despite the fact that he had a solid alibi with numerous witnesses to back him up. There was nothing connecting him to the crime, and he didn’t even know the victim.

With a twenty-year sentence looking probable, Layda Negrete and Roberto Hernandez, two young married attorneys, began filming both the proceedings in court and even in the prison. The best part of the viewing was afterwards when we were treated to a Q-and-A session with film participants who answered many questions about the parallels between the Mexican and American justice systems, the film, and innocence. 

Yes, Antonio Zuniga was ultimately freed!  

Tonight was the kick off of the 2011 Innocence Network Conference: An International Exploration of Wrongful Conviction. Many of the leading experts in the Innocence Movement from around the globe and more than 80 exonerees have gathered here in Cincinnati this weekend. I am excited to be attending the conference and will be sharing more.

 

 

EDITOR’S NOTE:  RED! columnist Angela Derrick is on assignment for the webzine, sending dispatches from the 2011 Innocence Network Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Her regular column is called “Looking Outward”.