Ronald Cotton's Song

Cotton composed this song in prison.  At the end of his second trial for raping two women, he was convicted and sentenced to two life sentences for the crimes.  The judge asked Cotton if he wanted to say anything and Cotton asked if he could sing a song...


"... Decisions I can no longer make, because my future is so unknown to me, and that I could no longer take, 'cause during the day-ay I wonder, at night I heard with fear call out your name so much to send me tears ... until God gave me my life, until God gave me my life. I was all done alone, and because people I really couldn't face, I just didn't know what to do, because I'd a felt so out of place, and if only you could see me, then you would know how I feel. I'm not the same person I used to be; sometimes I don't think that is real. How many times must I say this before you agree that no other God could ever love you, not quite as much as old God. Believe me, everyone, 'cause God will change your life and that is a fact 'cause I was praying both night and day until God come in my life, until God come in my life, until God come in my life, I was praying both night and day until God come in my life."

Jennifer Thompson's Reaction

At the second trial, he stood up and said, "Yes, I'm sorry this has happened to these women. I didn't do it, but while I was in prison I have been saved. I found God and I've written this song and I would like to sing it."

And then he proceeded to sing a song which basically said that, "I have been a bad person, I've committed crimes, I've done rotten things, but God has saved me and Jesus is in my life and I'm willing to pay for this crime that I didn't commit because I know that somehow I'll be redeemed."

When the song was over, I remember there was an immense amount of anger that I felt towards him--that how dare you try to receive sympathy from people in this courtroom when you've done this horrible crime and at the same time I felt like if you had been saved, if Jesus had really entered your life, if you are going to be redeemed then I hope so for you, but there was such a mixed feeling that it was sickening, it was nauseating, I wanted to just throw up. I wanted to cry. I can remember my face feeling hot, my heart racing and ... that's one of the moments that I lost it.

Mike Gauldin's Reaction

It was a very eerie kind of moment that I've never experienced before or since in a courtroom.

I didn't anticipate him standing up and singing a song ... and the nature of the song dealt with him being imprisoned and being falsely imprisoned. And I don't remember the exact words, but he wrote it himself ... You see a lot of weird things, you get some people that will get up and scream and flake out and people in the audience that will pass out, if it's a death penalty case ... It was just weird. You'd have had to be there.

the photos | cotton's wrongful conviction | interviews | faqs | re-evaluating procedures | song of an innocent man | links | tapes & transcripts | reactions | explore frontline | wgbh

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation