Friday, June 6, 2014

Secret Subject Swap: June Edition

Welcome to a Secret Subject Swap. This week, 15 brave bloggers picked a secret subject for someone else and were assigned a secret subject to interpret in their own style. Today we are all simultaneously divulging our topics and submitting our posts. 

My subject is You've been accused of a crime, but you are innocent. All the evidence points to you. What crime are you accused of and how do you prove you are innocent?
It was submitted by:

Hope you enjoy my interpretation of this prompt. It's not going to be as light-hearted as many people would take it given the same prompt but it is something that is very close to heart... After my post, I hope you'll check the links for the rest of the bloggers who participated and find the prompt I submitted myself!

Perhaps one of the most disturbing facts about the American justice system is that you can, despite all the measures that are supposed to prevent it, be convicted of a crime you did not commit by a jury of your peers. We have this idea that the justice system here is exactly what it claims to be—a fair, balanced, unbiased, and methodical examination of the facts and only the facts—but it is far from any of that. What we have is a system that has been shown to act with extreme bias towards the poor and minorities, that rarely applies laws and rules consistently, and is more concerned with profits. Prison is a very profitable industry.

Even more disturbing is that once that happens, and it does happen, it becomes nearly impossible to prove you are innocent because a jury of your peers—people that often cannot even quote you their own rights, the laws of the land, or any information about the government beyond a 3rd grade education—has already found you to be guilty and higher courts no longer care to entertain the idea that this highly fallible method of judgment could have been wrong.

If I committed a crime, especially in the state of Texas, and all the evidence pointed to me, quite frankly, I’d be fucked. There would be a very slim chance that someone somewhere might finally listen to my pleas for help such as the Innocence Project who aids in my friend Robert’s case (read about our friendship here and here). But, even then…even when an attorney gives a damn and tries hard to fight for his or her client, the court can refuse to discuss true innocence claims. Take the case of one Robert Will from Texas. Rob is convicted of shooting a police officer. No one saw him commit this crime. He has never confessed to this crime and has always maintained his innocence. The person that Rob has always said committed this crime has since confessed himself. Multiple times. But, the court says that doesn’t matter… A judge specifically told Rob that he had strong doubts about Rob’s guilt, but that the court doesn’t care about innocence once a person has been found guilty by a jury of their peers. What kind of justice is this? And Rob’s not the only one. Not the first. Not the last. He may be executed for a crime he likely did not commit and he won’t be the first or the last innocent man to die in this system either.

Since 1976 when the death penalty was reinstated in this country, 1379 people have been executed and 144 (as of March 2014) have been exonerated. That’s almost 11%. That’s right….almost 11% of the number of people who have been executed were wrongly convicted. But, here’s the thing…that’s only the people who were able to get a decent attorney and a good following, a good support system, or an Innocence Project group to help on their case. Many more have been executed despite strong doubts about their guilt because there was no one to help them. Even more have been executed and later evidence showed they were innocent. I like to use the case of Cameron Todd Willingham in Texas to illustrate my point here because it’s just so damn tragic. Willingham was convicted of setting fire to his home and letting his children burn to death inside. The prosecution said he was angry at the children’s mother and set the fire that killed his own flesh and blood in order to get her back. Before his execution, renowned forensic experts investigated the evidence in the case and said definitively that there was no way the fire could have been arson. The burn patterns the fire marshal at the time stated were caused by an accelerate were nothing of the sort. All the evidence in the crime actually suggests it was an electrical fire and not deliberately set. Rick Perry, the governor now and at that time was presented with this evidence and is on record as saying he didn’t want a guy like that living in Texas anyway and would not stay the execution or take any measures that would have saved Willingham’s life. Not only did this man lose his own children in a tragic accident, he was convicted of their deaths, murdered by the state of Texas, and died knowing that almost everyone in the world who knew him also thought he was guilty of something so vile and heinous (watch his documentary here. It's not long, but it's very informational and important to this topic. vital, even). So, even though some people are exonerated after spending years on death row...others are executed for something they did not do while the real killer remains free to kill again (or in the case of Willingham, under tragically flawed investigations)

To put this in terms that more people can identify with, would you trust a hospital to deliver your baby if it had an 11% minimum rate of swapping babies at birth? If there were an 11% chance minimum that you would walk out of the hospital with the wrong child, would you still use it? Would you still have faith in it?

What we have right now is a very expensive and very error-prone system in which our tax dollars are supporting the murder of innocent people by the hands of a very inept government. In one of the latest Pew Research polls on public trust of the government, only 19% say they trust the government to do what is right all or most of the time. 19 fucking %. Yet, 56% of people trust government agencies to get the right person when it comes to the death penalty. 56% of us are fine with capital punishment doled out by the governmental agencies when only 19% of people trust the government—the same Congressional leaders who are in charge of state laws.

What would I do to prove I am innocent? I’d do the same thing that the innocent men sitting on death row right now are doing. I would write and reach out to people hoping someone somewhere would believe in me and give me help. I would do everything I could not to lose hope, but as every year passed and edged me closer to death, as every appeal ruled against me, that hope would diminish. That’s where so many are in the process right now…losing ground and losing hope. More will be unjustly executed. Even if you believe and support the fundamental basis of capital punishment, surely you cannot support the murder of innocent men and women and that, unfortunately, is something we have done and continue to do. On the behalf of those innocent men and women who have already died, on the behalf of those still fighting, and given the fact that it could be anyone in their shoes—you, me, or any of our loved ones—I beseech you to give it more thought, do the research, and became an active supporter of capital punishment reforms. If I were innocent yet convicted, I would need you. Each one of you. And so do the men and women on death row now.

*If any of you might wonder how you can help real people with real stories, I'll be happy to give you some direction in comments or emails. There are also plenty of websites to check especially those I linked to in the content of the blog, and I would be happy to provide more direct links to those as well if anyone wants them. If nothing else, even a $10 donation to your state's Innocence Project could help save someone's life. Those projects work on donations and grants and are non-profit agencies. Donations to Anti-Death Penalty groups in your state or national groups could also help fight the death penalty overall. Thank you for your time today, and if any of this makes you want to have a stronger dialogue about the subject I am always available to discuss it (passionately but without judgement...I've been on the opposite end of the belief spectrum myself which I discuss in a blog I linked to above).
Here are links to all the sites now featuring Secret Subject Swap posts. Sit back, grab a cup, and check them all out. See you there: Baking In A Tornado Spatulas on Parade Stacy Sews and Schools Dinosaur Superhero Mommy Juicebox Confession More Than Cheese and Beer Confessions of a part-time working mom Someone Else’s Genius Sparkly Poetic Weirdo Crumpets and Bullocks FBX Adventures (In Parenting) elleroy was here Climaxed The Bergham’s Life Chronicles Evil Joy Speaks


  1. I love your passion. Thanks for another great post!

  2. What I love most about the Swap is that there's no right answer. The prompt can take us in any direction.
    You always state your case with intelligence and passion.
    I personally think your chances of getting off in court has less to do with whether or not you committed a crime and more to do with how good your attorney happens to be at playing the game. And although it terrifies me to think that people's lives are at stake based on a game, that's exactly what it seems to be.
    A side note: Jury Duty is considered a responsibility in our society but so many people (me included) do what we can to get out of it. Wonder why? I don't want to be a pawn in a game where the decks are stacked (forgive the mixed metaphors). But I'm also concerned about who this leaves to actually constitute these juries.

    1. Thanks Karen!! I really appreciate the compliments.

      Money really does have a lot to do with it. There was one case recently where a rich man (a 1%er) confessed to repeatedly raping his 3 year old daughter but was given no jail time. Had he not confessed, I have no doubt in my mind that he would have been found innocent.

      And another thing about juries, Richard Dawkins once wrote an essay about the sociological aspect of them. It's more about conformity or group think than people would assume. We always see shows and movies where one person holds out against all the others and stays adamant that the defendant is innocent, but it rarely happens that way. People honestly just want to agree and get back to their lives. They don't know the person in question and ultimately it doesn't affect them in any major way, so they don't take jury duty seriously and try to come to a consensus more than they attempt to seek out justice.

  3. I love your post, wow. You just never know how the recipient will work with the prompt, but love how you weaved it to fit you. I'd be truly scared to death. After reading a few books about just this, this is what prompted me to write this prompt. The thought of knowing I'm innocent, but with no way to prove it would be horrifying. Even worse when it's proven and the system still sentences you to death.

    1. It's very scary to think that this system has killed people for crimes they didn't commit (and even more often under felony murder laws). What books were you reading?

  4. I am ever so glad the day I stumbled across your blog. I appreciate that you didn't take the light-hearted approach for this prompt and the knowledge you bring to the table.

    Of course, I absolutely love your passion for justice as well. This is an uncomfortable subject but that's good in a roundabout way, because if it makes us feel uncomfortable than we know it needs to be addressed and hopefully stirs more of us to act.

    1. I went through all the discomfort in the beginning, too...trying to reconcile my anger over my friend being murdered with the lack of justice in the system that I consistently found. That discomfort hopefully inspires change no matter how tough it is. I think more people need to know about this subject. It's easy to go on about our lives and pretend it doesn't matter...but it has to or it's just going to fester and worsen. Thanks for reading as always!

  5. And that's one reason why I will never live in Texas. Thanks for sharing your passion with us!

  6. When I read the prompt I said to myself "Gee, isn't there a blogger who actually has a friend who is in this exact situation?" Then I saw it's you!!
    In Switzerland, the "justice system" (why is it even called that way, right?) is different from the one in the U.S. but still very flawed. A very good friend is a lawyer, and it happened to him, or better to his client, that police didn't even check on his alibi, which, had they done it, would have helped bailing him out. Makes me mad.

  7. The perfect prompt for you. Excellent post!

  8. Wow, you put so much thought into this prompt. I love how you provided all that information. It's a tragedy that money holds so much power....