Burden of InnocenceFRONTLINE
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photo of a prisoner in cuffsJoin the Discussion: Share your reactions to the stories of these wrongly imprisoned men. What light do they shed on our criminal justice system?

Dear FRONTLINE,

I happen to work at the University of Texas at El Paso. Last Saturday, May 10, one of our students, Chris Ochoa, graduated. He will start law school in September at the University of Wisconsin.

But he's not just any student with a bright future ahead of him.

You see, Chris Ochoa spent 12 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit. He was freed by the University of Wisconsin's Innocence Project.

Chris will now have the opportunity to help others the way he was helped.

To read his incredible story, go to:

http://www.wisbar.org/wislawmag/2001/04/molvig.html

Walli Haley
El Paso , Texas

Dear FRONTLINE,

I for one missed this, but wish I would have watched it. I didnt find out about this until my father called from prison and told me about it and said for me to look into it so thats what I am doing, but while I am here I will just say one thing: I do NOT believe in the system and never will unless they change some things like stop putting innocent people in prison when there is no proof.

There is no proof out there that can prove my father is guilty, because my father has all of his evidence and had all threw court but nobody would give him a chance. Now what kind of system is that when you cant even FIGHT for your Life! 10 years wasted just because my father is paying for somebody elses Crime.

Jamie Martin
Waite Park, MN

Dear FRONTLINE,

I have a son who was wrongly convicted, falsly accused and railroaded in the court rooms of Mineola, NY. Accused of robbing a armed Off duty armed police officer in Baldwin, NY. One am in the morning, five miles from our home.

The officer claims two black males robbed him while riding bikes, my son "looked" like one of the two who robbed him of books, credits cards, wallet etc. One month after the incident my sons name was circulating the neighborhood. We were alarmed of course and went in to find out why this was happening. My son was put into a line up, "arranged" pointed out first by a Black male individual who claims he saw my son in the area. He later admitted he lied but would not sign an affidavit or go to authorities. There is no co-defendant.

The description given by the officer does not match my son in height, color, hairs, weight, nothing. My son's alibi witness were block from the stand by an X-Judge... .

We hired one attorney who quit immediately after assisting the police in their efforts to railroad my son. Another attorney simply quit just before trial "suggesting the defendants mother called him too much and he was ill, unable to continue after we paid him all my hard earned money. We were then assigned with a golf pal of the X Judge...

An assigned attorney who completely botched the case, even to the point of misleading my son and I with wrong information as to dates of the crime occurance.

The individual who stated he saw my son in the area was listed as an "eyewitness". We had the classic all white Nassau County jury, the forman was a retired cop, jury members whose friends and family work directly or indirectly with law enforcement. My son at age 18 was railroaded. This was in 1996 and he remains in prison, sentenced to 10-20 years.

I've called and written the law schools, the innocent projects across the country and New York. The governor, Mr. Sharpton, the local NAACP stated to my "If your Black, Innocent with No Money, you are going to jail. How true it is. It was indeed a revelation.

Also, I found that not only do ethnic groups outside of the African American immediately deem "Black Males especially" "GUILTY" but folk from my own community, race, ethnic group, African Americans assume their own are guilty as well. We help the corrupt system to convict and railroad our own children. I can tell you some stories of people from my own community who tried to use my sons' sidutation to promote themselves. The church? The church are composed of the same people. My son remains in prison INNOCENT. So, we continue fighting as from day one.

It was difficult for me to watch the program. I know the pain that words cannot begin to describe. Such as the days when sleeping on the floor gave more comfort than my own bed. The times I simply could not leave the house for days or get up.

The years of lost fellowship and powerful relationship with the God I believed in. Even to this day, as I have been able to function better much better, just to have to go over my sons legal files opens up the wound that will not heal until my son is free. Even then I don't know. I imagine my sons' pain a hundred times more than mine as even though I am in prison with him, it is he who is actually there.

I ask that anyone who is a compentant professional to contact us if you wish to offer help. I hope this correspondance to you will get the help we need. www.Ebron2003@yahoo.com

Patricia Barrow

Mother Of

E'bron

"INNOCENT"

"WRONGLY CONVICTED"

Patricia Barrow
Hempstead, New York

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was inspired by your program, and especially Neil Miller, though I am not sure by what specifically that he said. Perhaps I just felt compassion for Neil and his struggles with depression. I am creating a website www.exonerated.org, which I hope will benefit people who are exonerated. My goal is to create a virtual community with online e-journals where exonerees can share their thoughts, feelings, and every day experiences if they should choose to do so. In special cases, assistance could be provided to help contributors to get access to the Internet, hopefully through donated equipment or funds.

A key mission is to help educate the public, and especially employers, about what it means to be exonerated, and hopefully to be willing to take a chance and give an exoneree the break that he or she needs to get his or her life going again.

However, I am a "computer person" and have no clue about the ins and outs of creating an association or non-profit organization, so I am looking for committed individuals to partner with me in the process. I am also looking for people to donate equipment, such as web-tv, e-mail stations, or computers that could be loaned or gifted to exonerees who need them. Ultimately, I would like to have a mentor program to help train exonerees in computer-related areas and to gain the experience that they need to get out into the workforce.

Sincerely,

Jonathan F. Dill

Jonathan Dill
Germantown, MD

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for the documentary on these wrongfully incarcerated men, and their struggle to survive since. I am appalled at the idea of them being 'turned out' once proven innocent, without so much as bus-fare, let alone any monetary help to reinvent their lives.

We should have some 'wrongful imprisonment' compensation laws in each and every state, to assist these men and women in trying to re-enter society. If we can do it for the families of 9/11 victims, why can't we do the same for these people? It's time for the people of this country to shout all the way to Washington DC about such injustices, and start demanding the 'equal justice' clause to become a reality after 200 years..

Lois Bass
Ivins, Utah

Dear FRONTLINE,

I ask beg! everyone reading this to write/call/e-mail your Members of Congress MCs and urge them to vote in favor of the Innocence Protection Act. For lots of good information on this piece of legislation including which MCs have cosponsored it and which ones haven't, go to the following website. From this website, you also can send an e-mail or print out and mail a letter to your own MCs. You type in your zipcode, and they will tell you who your MCs are. Please do this ASAP. I think this bill could come up for a vote at any time I'm not sure. Thank you.

http://justice.policy.net/cjreform/ipa/

And many, many thanks to Frontline for producing this amazing program... and lighting a fire under me about this issue! What could be more important than protecting innocent people from being sent to hell and back hopefully back! without any support whatsoever!?

Joanne Heisel
San Bruno, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your documentary shown on PBS Frontline’s "Burden of Innocence" demonstrates the psychological incapacitance that incarceration has on individuals.

If the majority of all inmates, guilty and innocence, will eventually be released into society again, is this not evidence the actions, facilities, and treatment by our government that the current system of institutionalization of individuals directly causes harm to the inmates and then to society when they are released? Could this "evidence" the actions, facilities, and treatment by our government of these individuals while incarcerated be used by later victims of these former inmates or by other governmental agencies that provide these former inmates with support because of their resulting psychological incapacity to bring lawsuits to effect change in the system and treatment of incarcerating individuals?

My sincere thanks to you and everyone else working to bring change to our government’s way of selecting fellow members of our society for confinement and their subsequent rehabilitation and treatment.

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Dear FRONTLINE,

I always believed in our justice system until my husband was falsely charged and convicted for crimes he did not commit. I was even more appalled at the mindset of the jurors during jury selection. We are not presumed innocent until proven guily but are guilty until and if we can prove our innocence. It is a numbers and political game.

I not have only had this experience in FL with my husband but with my sister in MI. She was falsely accused and was only 10 minutes from trial when her ex-husband dropped the charges. The prosecutors office told her they didn't believe she was guilty but they had their careers to think about. There are many honest people in the justice system and it is sad that the dishonest ones are able to ruin so many lives and hurt so many people. I have a strong faith in the providence of God and I know his justice will prevail.

Thank you for your broadcast as it has enlightened many people. I pray these and all others who have been falsely convicted will find true peace in there lives.

Tampa, FL

Dear FRONTLINE,

I saw your program last night, and I can't shake it. I am a teacher. Each Monday, at our school, we are encouraged to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance a chorus of children are chosen to recite it over the intercom on Monday mornings. I believe, after 9/11, saying the pledge became "law". I stand, but I refuse to say it. I tell the kids I don't believe what our government is doing in Iraq. I don't force anyone to say the pledge, but many do. "With Liberty and Justice for All".... I look at my third graders with their hands on their hearts, saying these words, solemn looks on their beautiful, brown, innocent faces. What does the future hold for them? I wept when I saw your program. I wept for Mr. Clyde Charles, Mr. Frederick Daye, Mr. Neil Miller, Mr. Anthony Robinson and Mr. Ron Williamson. I wept for all of the wrongly accused, I wept for everyone in prison 4 parents of kids in my classrom are incarcerated, all black men, and I wept for my students all children of color. I was sickened upon learning that most exonerated prisoners receive no compensation. I always wondered when I saw the glorified newscast, "Once a Prisoner, Now a Free Man"... the cigars being smoked, the relatives crying, the "free man" smiling, camera bulbs flashing. I am sickened, and worried. How free are we? We must all work for justice. Thank you Frontline for bringing this to the masses or at least the people watching PBS.

a g
milwaukee, wi

Dear FRONTLINE,

Since it was the STATE that took their freedom away along with any future hopes of a successful career, naturally it should be the STATE'S responsibility to care for these people.

All states should be required to provide to all wrongly accused people a minimum of one year on the state's unemployment rolls or a state grant of equal amount.

After that time hasexpired the STATE must be reqiured to provide employment as a state employee with full benefits in a jobequal to their abilities.

Since STATE cannot give back those years or remove the traumaof confinement and living in an atmosphere of violence around hardened convicts, as well as destroying all hopes for their future employment, I believe the STATE has an obligation here.

s.f., ca.

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Frontline,

Thank you for yet another excellent program.I feel that when these men were wrongfully imprisoned for crimes that they did not commit,that had sent a message that,the innocent somehow pay for the crimes of the guilty.

I feel that,we should realize that every man is innocent,until he is proven guilty,and,this program had shown the opposite side of this fact.Thank you for shedding light on this issue,once and for all.

Brooklyn, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

In light of your usual excellent report, I hope state legislators will consider enacting laws to eliminate any requirement that a legally exonerated individual report his or her exonerated conviction to a prospective employer.

Also, I wonder how the 16 states that do provide some monetary compensation to the wrongfully convicted answered the concerns of those who object to providing compensation because to do so would impute guilt to the state. I do know that worker's compensation laws have provided compensation for injury for many years now, regardless of blame or fault in an accident.

Thanks for the report and this amazing website.

Paul Theis
milwaukee, wisconsin

Dear FRONTLINE,

Do you remember when President Eisenhowser warned us against a Military Industrial Complex?

Well that's been replaced with the Prison Industial Complex. A system that feed off bad Prosecutors who need convictions, bad police investigations, who need arrests,...lab work done by those to closely tied to the police,...Congressmen/women and Senators who want to appears tough on crime,...Congress and States that impose mandaory sentences,... overcrowding,...inadequately trained guards,...no training in job or life skills for prisoners so when they get out they go right back in, which feeds the cyle.

The only winners are the very people who created the system and the big time vendors who build and service the prison sytem. The taxpayer loses and I don't know why they havesn't seen this, the prisoners lose and society loses because we have 2 million throw away people. It doesn't look like it's going to get any better because few people care enough to demand better.

It should be a crime to arrest and prosecute anyone falsely. All state and federal prosecutes, policeman and lab workers should not be immune from prosecuting when their acts or testimony results in a wrongfull conviction and/or incarceration.

Remember that all systems are invested in keeping the system going.!!

JoAnn Douglas
Foley, AL

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was heartened to see an examination of the invisible lives the exonerated lead after their often high profile releases. I am a death penalty public defender in Oklahoma, and am well acquainted with the facts surrounding the cases of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz. About a year ago I ran into Ron at a restaurant in Norman, Oklahoma, and we ended up dining and talking together. We spoke about his case and what he endured during his incarceration, a subject that is never far from his mind. Other attorneys from my agency were responsible for Ron's release, and he kept telling me how impotant it was to keep up the difficult work. When this job gets especially disheartening as it often does, I think back on Ron's words and get back to work.

Hopefully, your program will raise awareness about what men like Ron face after the nightmare of wrongful incarceration is over and a new and difficult phase begins. Thanks again.

G. Lynn Burch
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Dear FRONTLINE,

We can't thank the People that did this program enough!! I gonna make a pledge to Channel 6 to support them now! You have our attention,,now let's follow through and wake up My Country. God Bless You All!

Elmer Hamlett
Camino, California

Dear FRONTLINE,

After watching this excellent documentary, I wondered why there was no discussion about the Innocence Protection Act? This landmark federal legislation almost passed last year and had bi-partisan support in the House of Rep's 250 co-sponsors and in the Senate 30 democrats and republicans. Even though the documentary focused on somewhat similar legislation in several states, the states are looking for the federal goverment to take the lead!

What do you think is the role/repsonsibility of the Congress to "set a tone" for the states by passing the Innocence Protection Act?

Wayne F. Smith, Executive Director

The Justice Project

www.thejusticeproject.org

wayne smith
Washington, DC

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

Information on The Innocence Protection Act, and its supporters in Congress, is offered in the Frequently Asked Questions section of this web site.

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posted may 1, 2003

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