by Earl Staggs
In 1984, two girls, ages 14 and 15, were abducted at gunpoint, tied up and raped. Shortly afterward, they spotted a man driving a car and identified him as their attacker. He was convicted on their eyewitness testimony.
On May 12, 2011, Johnny Pinchback walked of a Texas prison a free man. Fortunately for him, Dallas County still had evidence which, when subjected to DNA testing, proved he was not the man who raped them.
Twenty-seven years behind bars. For a crime he did not commit.
Pinchback is now fifty-five years old and starting his life over again. He said, “It was pretty hard, but I trusted in God. I knew one day I would be a free man.” He also said he held no animosity toward the two girls who misidentified him. He plans to devote his life to helping others who suffered the same fate.
While I admire his attitude, I’m not sure I would be able to hold faith that long or be that forgiving. Like him, I wouldn’t hold hard feelings for the two teenage girls. They thought they were doing the right thing. I might have bad feelings for the defense attorney for not doing a better job, and I’d probably have bitter feelings toward the prosecutor for doing his too well.
There was no physical evidence linking Mr. Pinchback to the crime. He was convicted solely on eyewitness testimony, which is notorious for being wrong.
According to the Innocence Project, a non-profit organization which works to reopen criminal convictions that were made before DNA testing was available, "Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing."
The Dallas County District Attorney said this case illustrates the need for the Texas Legislature to pass bills reforming eyewitness identification procedures and rules on storage of evidence. He urges everyone to contact their representatives about passing such bills.
I think it illustrates much more than that.
DNA testing was not available in 1984, but has been in use since the early to mid 90’s. Why did it take so long to apply that testing in Mr. Pinchback’s case? Bureaucracy? Red tape? The incredibly slow movement of the courts in this type of situation? Probably all of those. And how many others are still in jail, fighting for such testing but are unable to get it? It is incomprehensibe that it takes years – many years – to have this kind of testing done. Knowing a large number of people are incarcerated who could be freed, something should be done to expedite the process.
I understand DNA testing labs are backed up and everyone must wait their turn. Okay, why not set up more labs? To me, that is an easy solution to a situation involving a great deal of injustice. There are certainly more people in prisons who will be freed in the future by DNA testing, and each one of them will, most likely, receive compensation. The amount varies with each state. In Texas, for example, the current law states exoneration is worth $80,000 per year of incarceration. That means the sooner these people are freed, the less it will cost the state. The savings over a short number of years would easily be more than the cost of establishing a DNA lab.
I’m not pushing for these people to receive less money, but I’m sure their freedom means more to them.
It makes sense to me. What do you think?
SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS now available for $2.99 on Amazon for Kindle and on Smashwords for other ereaders.
Here’s a free one – Read "The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer," a short story good for a few laughs at earlwstaggs.wordpress.com