Sunday, February 8, 2009

DNA Testing Exonerates Dead Man

CNN reports on this interesting story. A Texas district court judge Friday reversed the conviction of a man who died in prison nearly a decade ago, almost two decades into a prison sentence for a rape, as it turns out, he did not commit.

Timothy Cole was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for the 1985 rape of 20-year-old Michele Mallin. He maintained his innocence, but it was not confirmed by DNA until years after his 1999 death, when another inmate confessed to the rape.

In the courtroom of Judge Charlie Baird Friday afternoon, Mallin, now 44, faced Jerry Johnson, the man who confessed to the rape.

"What you did to me, you had no right to do," she told him angrily, according to Austin's KXAN. "You've got no right to do that to any woman. I am the one with the power now, buddy."

What happened was, the real rapist, Jerry Johnson, who was serving a life sentence for other sex crimes, decided to confess. He wrote a letter to Cole, not knowing that he had already died. When it arrived at the Cole family home, the complicated process of reversing the conviction began.

One thing that came out in the process, was that Ms. Mallin, surely traumatized by the experience, identified Cole as her attacker. She felt sure he was the rapist. After that, Texas justice took over, effectively railroading the young man for a crime he hadn't committed. The prosecutors and everyone else involved overlooked the little fact that Cole had asthma and Mallin testified that the attacker smoked continually.

I call that railroading and I call that Texas justice, although to be fair, it's surely happens in places other than the great state of Texas.

In this entire ugly case, I feel it's the prosecutors and judges and lax defense attorneys that are most at fault. Mallin's making a bad ID, for me is totally excusable given the circumstances. But, the officers of the court who failed to achieve any semblance of justice, should answer for this.

What's your opinion? Is it wrong when prosecutors approach their work as if it were a numbers game with so little concern for the truth? Or is that another misreading on my part, being a bleeding-heart liberal who always takes the part of the criminal? In this case, I hasten to point out, Cole was not a criminal.

What do you think about the anger expressed by the victim? We often talk about the closure that victims and the family members seek. It seems this case illustrates how elusive that closure can be even when one's attackers receive severe sentences. Do you think it's the same in Capital cases? After the execution, do the family members achieve that famous peace of mind and closure? I think not. I think the kinds of wounds people sustain at the hands of these violent offenders in most cases can never be healed. What do you think?


  1. Psychologists assert that the concept of ID-ing people [criminals] is quite fallacious and when two races are involved the identification is especially prone to speculation.

    Yet, we go on, pointing out the 'criminal,' using the John McCain invective, "That one!"

  2. Eyewitness identifications by strangers are the very worst form of evidence, yet we rely on them in a huge chunk of cases. In this case and others like it, the victim who identifies the wrong person (often with the encouragement of the police) has to feel guilty when, years later, that identification is proven to be wrong. From the additional facts I've read, she was led to believe that she'd id'd the right guy and that they had loads of other evidence against him, all of which just solidified her id when she had to do it in court. Mallin in this case isn't just a crime victim anymore; she was made to be complicit in the ruining of Cole's life. I feel terrible for her that she was put in that position.

    Just one note on the facts of the case: Johnson began trying to confess to the crime in 1995, when the 10 year statute of limitations expired. He contacted the DA and the police several times between 1995 and Cole's death. It was only when he got nowhere with those efforts that he finally wrote to Cole directly in the letter that was received by Cole's family after his death.

  3. I hate to hear of such miscarriages of justice. It's scary --it could happen to anybody. It's so tragic to think of imprisoning anyone unjustly. I'm sure the police get hardened in that it's hard to believe people claiming innocence when there are so many convincing liars.

  4. Sarah, Thanks for that background. Your inside trade secrets, so to speak, add a lot to our discussions.