01 November 2006

Today's rant

Our criminal justice system is not perfect. We realize perfection is impossible to achieve, so we purposely set up the system to attempt to ensure that if mistakes are made they are eventually caught. That's what the appeals process is all about.

The following story is about a man who was convicted of aggravated rape in 1981 and sentenced to 50 years in prison. Yesterday, this man was freed when DNA evidence established he had not committed the crime:
A decorated Vietnam veteran convicted of rape 25 years ago became a free man Tuesday after a judge ruled he probably wouldn't have been found guilty if DNA testing had been available.

Specialized DNA testing performed this year proved Larry Fuller, 57, was not the assailant who raped a Dallas woman in her home. Fuller has spent about two decades in prison for the crime.

"My faith was tested and I won," he said, trembling slightly as he left the courthouse carrying two worn paperback Bibles.

Fuller was sentenced in 1981 to 50 years behind bars after jurors convicted him of aggravated rape. Authorities claimed that he broke into a 37-year-old woman's apartment and raped her, using a butcher knife to cut her as she struggled.

The woman looked at two photo lineups, both of which included Fuller. She picked him in the second one, even though Fuller was bearded in the picture and she said her attacker had no facial hair.

At the time, Fuller was a 32-year-old Vietnam veteran who had received the Air Medal for taking care of his crew. He was pursing a career in art and had worked as a driver and warehouse employee.

Fuller served 18 years in prison before being released in 1999. He was sent back to prison last year for a parole violation. All the while, he professed his innocence and tried to prove it through DNA. This year, the Dallas County prosecutor's office agreed to allow the additional testing.

Both the assistant district attorney and state District Judge Lana McDaniel apologized to Fuller; neither were involved in the original case. The judge said she felt sick to her stomach over all the time he spent in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

"Thank you," Fuller responded. "Apology accepted."
This is a horrible mistake. It took far too long for it to be remedied. However, in the end, the truth did prevail.

Even more so, Mr. Fuller was a decorated Vietnam veteran who proclaimed his innocence all along. It says a lot about his character that he was able to accept the apology of the assistant district attorney and the state District Judge.

Further remedies are available: Mr. Fuller can file a civil suit and would likely win a significant sum of money. Whether this is a good idea or not is not up to me, it's up to Mr. Fuller. Still, it demonstrates that when we mess up, we have a system designed to remedy those mistakes.

Our criminal justice system needs to rely on these cases to improve itself. Clearly, the weakness of this case was in the possibly botched lineup and the mistaken identification. As those in the criminal justice system will tell you, eyewitnesses and identifications are notoriously bad.

Our criminal justice system will never be perfect, but being willing to admit mistakes is the first step to ultimately improving the system for the better.
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