Friday, May 27, 2011


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?

Earl Staggs

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


Shane Cashion said...

Pretty amazing Earl. So many issues to contend with regarding our prison and justice system. Those wrongfully detained as you touch upon; the enormous expense that attends incarcerating drug addicts and nonviolent offenders, etc. It certainly seems the entire system is in need of reforms. What shape they take, I can't begin to predict.

Jean Henry Mead said...


According to a book written by the late Johnnie Cochran, more than 50% of all prisoners are innocent of the crimes for which they're been charged, but are coerced into plea bargaining to a lesser crime, if they lack adequate representation.

June Shaw said...

Someone here was released after eighteen years once DNA testing was done. I can't imagine how bitter a person like that must be.

Earl Staggs said...

Shane, the entire sytem needs to be torn down and rebuilt in accordance with its original intent, which was to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. Now it's more about who can afford the best lawyers and who can't.

Earl Staggs said...

Strange he would say that, Jean, since he and others like him were a big part of what's gone wrong with our legal system.

Earl Staggs said...

June, I see stories like that frequently. Clearly we need a DNA lab exclusively dedicated to quickly freeing those unfortunate people.

Jean Henry Mead said...

True, Cochran helped to free O.J. Simpson, but there's more truth to his statement than fiction.

June Shaw said...

Cockran's team freed the man in our town.

Mark W. Danielson said...

California is solving the problem by releasing criminals because of overcrowding. Ready or not, here they come!

Carola Dunn said...

It's horrifying to think of the people who've been executed because of faulty eye-witness evidence. It was proved long ago that it's the least reliable form of evidence, but people continue to be convicted on that basis. Most of the civilized world has stopped capital punishment--time the US joined the civilized world.