This Week in Innocence

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Imagine having 27 years of your life taken from you.

Despite being convicted of the 1984 shooting of a South Pasadena, Calif. man, Frank O’Connell always maintained his innocence throughout the 27 years he’s been in prison.

Now, O’Connell is getting a second chance to prove it. Last month, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled that he was entitled to a new trial because the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department failed to disclose evidence pointing to another potential suspect, reports the Los Angeles Times. The detectives may also have improperly influenced witnesses.

O’Connell’s family was able to post $75,000 bail Friday, and he was released Saturday morning.

“I feel great,” O’Connell said in a phone call to The Huffington Post. “Getting acclimated back into society is going to take a little while, but the excitement, the love and the joy I’ve been receiving from everyone, as well as the well-wishing and prayers, helps.”

I’m continually impressed by the attitude of these exonerees upon their release.* I’m sure there are examples out there, but I can’t recall a single time when one of these guys expressed anger or bitterness after getting out. Even in cases of gross misconduct by government officials.

I’d like to think I’d be as gracious. But I kinda’ doubt it.

(*Technically, O’Connell isn’t yet an exoneree, and could still be tried again.)

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33 Responses to “This Week in Innocence”

  1. #1 |  Aresen | 

    As it is a new trial rather than an admission that they had the wrong man, I’d guess that O’connell would not be entitled to compensation should he be found ‘not guilty.’

  2. #2 |  Pops | 

    well, being in prison for that amount time will most likely take the piss and vinegar out of anybody.

  3. #3 |  Just Plain Brian | 

    I’m continually impressed by the attitude of these exonerees upon their release.

    Stockholm Syndrome?

  4. #4 |  Aresen | 

    WRT to O’Connell’s graciousness, I’d guess that keeping a positive attitude and always looking on the bright side is what made it possible to survive 27 years of imprisonment. (OMG, that’s 10,000 days!!)

    Health wise, focusing on the injustice would lead to depression and the attendant physiological effects.

  5. #5 |  hexag1 | 

    Actually, Radley, wasn’t there a case where a guy was falsely convicted, and then murdered a woman after he got out? I seem to recall reading such a story at one point.

  6. #6 |  John P. | 

    Radley, I’m sure their will was broken along time ago… they are most certainly still in denial when making such statements.

    After some time has elapsed I’d bet you a bar tab they will become angry, either at the entire system or those they see as the ones who put them in prison.

    But yes, I”m with you… if it were me, I’d be mad as a wet hornet. And it would depend on how much of my life was lost and how much irreversible damage was done to me by those who wrongfully put me in prison, just how that anger manifested itself.

  7. #7 |  Goober | 

    But the law and order right wing will continue to lament how the system lets bad guys “slip through the cracks” and how we need to toughen up our system and make it harder for them to get exonerated.

    Fucking people all need to go spend a decade behind bars for something that they didn’t do, then come out and tell me that.

  8. #8 |  Goober | 

    And yes, I’d rather we let 100 bad guys “slip through the cracks” than imprison just one innocent man.

    Words cannot express how much i want to punch people that excuse cases like this by saying “well, the guy was probably a scumbag anyway, even if he was innocent”. As if a person going to jail must be a bad guy, and their limited cognitive function can’t possibly allow them to see that there is another option there.

  9. #9 |  cliff | 

    Maintaining a ‘good attitude’ is, I’m sure, required if you want your release…

  10. #10 |  ebohlman | 

    I more suspect that they’re saying what their lawyers have advised them to. I notice most exonerees talk a lot about their religious faith; that goes a long way toward scoring points with the general public.

  11. #11 |  Dale Boley | 

    Having 27 years chopped off of my life at the end would be one thing… being imprisoned for 27 years is beyond my words. I can’t imagine I would be as gracious as this guy.
    More injustice will follow, as any restitution he receives will come from taxes. Those responsible will pay nothing.

  12. #12 |  Dale Boley | 

    Also… John P., “mad as a wet hornet” is pretty sweet.

  13. #13 |  DPirate | 

    I keep hoping this attitude is a front to mask their plans of hunting down those who’ve willfully wronged them and exacting revenge.

  14. #14 |  Len | 

    DPirate…as in “Law Abiding Citizen”? Though a bit different in circumstances. Great movie until the end.

  15. #15 |  Bob | 

    I’d like to think I’d be as gracious. But I kinda’ doubt it.

    Well, that guy knows for a fact and first hand how the “Justice System” works… no matter how he really feels, I expect he’s just smiling and nodding to avoid undue additional attention from it.

  16. #16 |  Bob | 

    #13 | Len | April 23rd, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    DPirate…as in “Law Abiding Citizen”? Though a bit different in circumstances. Great movie until the end.

    Yeah, I wanted to see a different ending. One a lot more Biblical. That would have been awesome.

  17. #17 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    I can’t recall a single time when one of these guys expressed anger or bitterness after getting out. Even in cases of gross misconduct by government officials.

    If you’d already lost decades of your life due to arbitrary action of government, you might be loathe to attract their attention by publically condemning them.

  18. #18 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    More injustice will follow, as any restitution he receives will come from taxes. Those responsible will pay nothing.

    This happens enough that no one can legitimately claim to be suprised anymore, and yet every November, the voters put the same people back in charge.

    In some sense, the taxpayers are those responsbile.

  19. #19 |  Doug | 

    Just to be clear, let’s not lose sight of the fact that this man has not been exhonerated. I don’t know what the facts of the underlying case are, but this event is NOT the same as, for example, DNA showing that another man committed a rape years ago.

    What IS clear is that the prosecution and/or the police agency involved screwed up and were dishonest. This does NOT automatically translate to an assumption that he didn’t do the murder.

    The tone here seems to be off in that regard.

  20. #20 |  Jerryskids | 

    @#17 Stormy Dragon – I agree that “we the people” are rightfully on the hook for this. If your pet alligator gets loose and chomps somebody, you are responsible. The cops and prosecutors are our alligators, like it or not. Cops and prosecutors will keep this crap up as long as we let them get away with it.

    @#7 and #8 Goober – One of the more depressing moments in my life came in a con law class where the prof asked the class what they thought the balance should be between the risk of letting the guilty go free versus the risk of wrongfully imprisoning the innocent and most in the class said 50/50 seemed reasonable. Even worse, a few even thought it was more important to make sure the guilty did not go free even if that meant lots of innocent people went to jail. After talking to them a bit, it became apparent that they seriously believed that even if the standard of proof were to be dropped to “preponderance of evidence” rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt” not many innocent people would go to jail. And what made them think this? “Because if you were innocent, the cops wouldn’t have arrested you.” That’s right, the assumption really is that if the cops arrested you it must be because you did something wrong. Guilty until proven innocent. How do you even argue with people like that?

  21. #21 |  StrangeOne | 

    Jerryskids

    “How do you even argue with people like that?”

    Get them to interact with more cops outside of their safe zones. A friend of mine is in law school right now and while he grew up in Long Beach during the riots, his classmates are mostly affluent kids right out of college. Needless to say he hears a lot of interesting theories about how cops behave vs. how they actually behave coming from his classmates.

    The cops put a lot of effort into propagating this notion that they are noble heroes. For the people that don’t have to routinely deal with aggressive law enforcement in their own neighborhoods it’s an easy myth to swallow. The police don’t treat anyone with any sign of affluence as badly as they do the obviously poor, or the obviously black.

  22. #22 |  CyniCAl | 

    On a related topic, will California voters collectively do the right thing this fall?

    http://news.yahoo.com/california-measure-repeal-death-penalty-qualifies-ballot-004636508.html

    At least they’ll have the chance to do the right thing.

  23. #23 |  BamBam | 

    @13 here is what I thought about the ending of Law Abiding Citizen:

    “The State always wins. The State is almighty. All praise The State.”

  24. #24 |  Jack Dempsey | 

    Remember though, the system worked. It only took him being wrongfully convicted and 27 years to straighten it out. /said with dripping sarcasm

  25. #25 |  Mike T | 

    #23,

    One man against the state and that’s sadly always the case.

  26. #26 |  CyniCAl | 

    Of course the State always wins. If you fight the State, the State defends itself, as it must, to preserve its sovereignty. And if the State is defeated, it is simply replaced with a new State.

    The only way to “beat” the State is to flee it and try to live a life of non-violence.

  27. #27 |  Deoxy | 

    But the law and order right wing will continue to lament how the system lets bad guys “slip through the cracks” and how we need to toughen up our system and make it harder for them to get exonerated.

    Fucking people all need to go spend a decade behind bars for something that they didn’t do, then come out and tell me that.

    The objective is to minimize the number of innocents who have bad things befall them. WHO does the bad thing is really not relevant.

    As such, an agent of the state killing someone who didn’t deserve is essentially the same (for this purpose) as a random murderer doing it. Wrongly imprisoning someone for 20 years is the essentially same as kidnapping them for 20 years (well, but still letting them have visits phone calls? it doesn’t analogize perfectly).

    So, the objective is to find the balance where the least amount of bad stuff is done to innocent people. ANY system that punishes the guilty will also at least occasionally punish the innocent accidentally. A system that NEVER punishes the innocent is one that never punishes ANYONE.

    As such, I think any system that lets 100 go free rather than punish 1 innocent is INSANE – those 100 will go do far for damage than is done to the 1.

    I make no claim to know exactly where the line is, and I certainly think our current system has horrendous incentives that make it more likely to punish the innocent than the guilty in many cases (among other problems, many of which are correctable), but seeking some idealized perfection is just as crazy as authoritarians seeking Utopia through mass execution of the “bad” parts of society.

  28. #28 |  Goober | 

    Deoxy – if you truly feel this way then I suggest that you volunteer to be the next innocent man who rots in prison for 27 precious years, and save those of us who disagree with you from possibly being next in the cue.

  29. #29 |  Jim | 

    Goober FTW.

  30. #30 |  JOR | 

    “The objective is to minimize the number of innocents who have bad things befall them. WHO does the bad thing is really not relevant.”

    That is some legal philosophers’ objective, not “the” objective.

  31. #31 |  StrangeOne | 

    ANY system that punishes the guilty will also at least occasionally punish the innocent accidentally. A system that NEVER punishes the innocent is one that never punishes ANYONE.

    That’s a false dichotomy. You can still have a system with a very high standard of evidence. Perhaps some people who are guilty, but not provably so, will go free. A great many other criminals still have more than enough evidence against them, many are caught red-handed during the commission of their crime.

    But that’s not our current standard. Our current standard allows for anyone to spend decades in prison, or sometimes get put on death row, based on nothing more than the testimony of a few eye witnesses. And then after the fact, if some evidence of provable innocence or police / prosecutor misconduct comes forwards it can take years, even decades, to free them.

    One of the most damning aspects of our system is the degree to which institutions of justice actively resist setting innocent people free, or compensating them.

    As such, I think any system that lets 100 go free rather than punish 1 innocent is INSANE – those 100 will go do far for damage than is done to the 1.

    This is the ethics of scapegoating. Honestly, if other peoples lives have so little value to you that you are willing to throw them away so as to feel more comfortable about criminals being in jail then you are a complete and total monster. Who the fuck are you to demand that other peoples lives be ruined so that you can sleep better at night? I would rather deal with the criminals myself than authorize the state to destroy the lives of innocents, anything less than that would be a personally damning act of extreme cowardice.

  32. #32 |  Uno Hu | 

    “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” “Let no man know what you are thinking.” “I certainly bear those whose actions resulted in this miscarriage of justice no personal ill will.” All statements of one type. If the malefactor whose personal actions led to the sacrifice of 27 years of a man’s life can be identified, it is likely there is no place that it will be safe for that malefactor to hide once the individual is set loose to seek satisfaction for 27 years of deprivation.

  33. #33 |  supercat | 

    //I would rather deal with the criminals myself than authorize the state to destroy the lives of innocents, anything less than that would be a personally damning act of extreme cowardice.//

    That’s really the right solution. That having been said, I think the previous poster’s point is sound: the whole purpose of the criminal prosecution system is supposed to be to minimize harm caused to innocents whom bad things befall. Attempts to minimize such harm will necessarily require taking a very strong interest in avoiding the prosecution of innocent people. Among other things, since prosecution of innocents takes resources and impetus away from pursuing the guilty. Further, if prosecutors are allowed to get away with taking “shortcuts”–prosecuting whomever they can find without regard for actual guilt–some will likely take advantage.

    I short, one shouldn’t refrain from punishing a criminal because of a vanishingly small chance that he might be innocent, but nor should one be indifferent to the wrongful prosecution of innocents. If one wants to prosecute the guilty, then one should focus on prosecuting *only* the guilty.

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