A Georgia man was freed from prison yesterday after DNA tests proved he was not guilty of a 27-year-old rape. John Jerome White was convicted on the basis of the victim’s eyewitness testimony and sentenced to life in prison. He was paroled in 1990, but two subsequent convictions, one for drugs and one for robbery, resulted in his return to prison to serve the rest of the life sentence. Tests on hairs collected from the crime scene — tests that weren’t available in 1980 — implicate another man, one who has a previous rape conviction. Unfortunately, the victim, who was 74 at the time of the attack, didn’t live to see the right person brought to justice.
White is grateful to be out of prison, and he has a much better attitude about the false conviction than I would:
“When I first started out, I wondered why this happened to me,” he said, breaking into tears. “I just saw it as something that had to happen because I wasn’t living a moral life.”
He’s a fortunate man. He had family waiting for him when he was released, and he had the Georgia Innocence Project, which requested the DNA tests. He also lives in a state where authorities apparently aren’t threatened by the idea of using new technology when it’s available to ensure that they haven’t convicted and incarcerated the wrong person. *
Too bad Alabama won’t emulate Georgia’s approach.
* They’re also willing to admit that eyewitness identification can be problematic:
White is the seventh Georgia convict to be cleared by DNA evidence, said Aimee Maxwell, director of the-based Georgia Innocence Project. In every case, the men were wrongly convicted on eyewitness accounts.
“This case does point out the fallibility of eyewitness identification,” Maxwell said.
…Maxwell said her organization is working with state lawmakers and authorities to require all law enforcement agencies to develop and follow clearly written procedures for doing an eyewitness identification with a victim, Maxwell said. The organization says 82 percent of the 355 Georgia law enforcement agencies surveyed do not have any type of written eyewitness standards.