Sunday, April 12, 2009

Thomas Cahill and Dominque Green: A Saint on Death Row

Thomas Cahill, author of A Saint on Death Row, the story of Dominque Green, was interviewed by Bob Edwards this weekend. Dominque Green was executed on October 26, 2004, in Texas for a murder he didn't commit. As I listened to the interview, I knew I'd have to write my thoughts to Bob Edwards. Here's what I sent him:

Dear Bob,

As I drove across the plains of eastern Colorado, I listened with greater intensity than usual to your interview with Thomas Cahill. My destination was the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility, a Colorado State prison, my destination every weekend as I listen to your show. After listening to your interview, I turned into the prison parking lot, walked through the prison's reception center, processed through to the visiting room, and waited for my son Todd to appear. He's serving 31 years for a murder he didn't commit.

As I sat waiting for Todd, Cahill's claim that middle-class people don't face wrongful convictions echoed. We are a family firmly rooted in the middle class. I'm an English professor at the Air Force Academy, my wife of over 40 years is a marriage and family therapist, Todd's sister is a physician.

Once, in what seems a different life, I'd have accepted Cahill's comforting claim that our middle-class status insulated us from the potential of a wrongful conviction. Experience tells me, however, that his claim is a false comfort. Once, I’d read with horror the rising number of people who’d spent years in prison for crimes they hadn’t committed before being exonerated by the Innocence Project. But it was a detached horror, something like the horror of hearing about a shark attack while sipping a latte in Denver. The horror now is palpable.

The causes of false convictions are manifold: Among them are eyewitness misidentification, the use of unreliable forensic technologies, the mishandling of evidence, false confessions, investigatory incompetence or misconduct, prosecutorial misconduct, the use of unreliable informants or snitches, and bad lawyering. Although the poverty of a defendant increases the chances for a false conviction, a misstep at any point can send criminal investigations and prosecutions arcing towards a false conviction regardless of the defendant's wealth. Only by understanding how the process fails will we find sensible remedies for a system that too often convicts the innocent.

Like many other tragedies, false convictions fall disproportionately upon the poor and those who have suffered other forms of social injustice, like Dominique Green. But our case testifies to the enduring truth of Martin Luther King’s words from forty years ago: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” All of us need to understand the personal risk we assume when we ignore a significant injustice.

Bill Newmiller


Edie Disler said...

Bill: A very moving and eloquent response to Bob Edwards. The notion of sitting in jail as an innocent person is simply unfathomable to me -- a sheltered middle class person. Your readers need to understand what a toll this takes on your life as a parent, every moment of every day. If such empathy is too distant for them, then they need to be incensed at the cost to taxpayers of an innocent person sitting in jail, incompetent investigators and lab personnel contracted by their localities, and the price they paid for incompetent prosecutors who, for example, give immunity to guilty parties in order to have them "name names" which, of course, a scurrilous guilty party will do. Kudos to you for persistently fighting the "good fight." -- Edie

mason said...

As always, Bill's words resonate with truth and wisdom. The problem with attaching a profile to anything is that it offers a smugness of false protection. Wrongful accusations that can lead to wrongful convictions are a reality and possibility for EVERYONE. As with all problems, recognition and acceptance of there being a problem is the first step to recovery. All fair minded people should educate themselves to the inconsistencies and corruption within our legal system and demand justice for all people. The fight is so much easier in principle than reality. Get involved before it affects someone that is precious to your life.

Anonymous said...

It takes more than a toll. It consumes your every waking thought. It wakes you from your sleep wondering if your son is okay, unharmed and safe. It makes you unable to enjoy life in a way you never thought imaginable. It's the topic of family events and it's a constant reminder at every event your son is not there with the rest of the family. It takes more than a toll, it takes your life away forever!

Missing our son said...

You are in our prayers. We too are going through this and our justice system is severely flawed! Don't ever give up!