The American justice system has taken a hammering in the past 24 hours. And so it should.
First we had the case of a man freed from jail after 39 years who was wrongly convicted of murder.
What’s worse his original sentence was to receive the death penalty. But lucky for him, Ohio, the state, where it happened, abolished the death penalty three years after he was convicted.
So even though he spent all of that time in prison, he was able to walk free and breathe fresh air in the outside world again. If the State had not changed the law he would be dead right now. And the system would have killed an innocent man.
And now we have the case of a woman in California freed from prison after 17 years because she was wrongly convicted of murder. This is yet another example, of the justice system getting it terribly, terribly wrong.
Fifty-nine-year-old Susan Mellen was convicted of beating a homeless man to death. Now a court has found she was innocent.
An appeal judge ruled that Mellen received what he called poor legal representation from her trial lawyer.
Apparently her conviction rested on the testimony of a witness who claimed she heard Mellen confess to the crime. But that witness has now been described as an habitual liar.
The appeal judge told Mellen that he “felt really bad about what had happened to her.”
So he should.
So should the entire Californian justice system. They should hang their heads in shame. They are entirely to blame for what happened.
Luckily for Susan Mellen, her case was taken up by an organisation called Innocence Matters, which seeks to exonerate the wrongly convicted.
Innocence Matters said in a statement that the detective, who arrested Mellen, was also responsible for a case in 1994 that resulted in two people later being exonerated.
Three gang members were linked to the crime that Mellen was convicted for. One of them took a lie-detector test and said Mellen wasn’t there when it happened.
There is probably not a lot to make of this revelation other than to say it is yet another point in Mellen’s favour.
The court made an interesting legal ruling when it freed Susan Mellen.
It decided that she was factually innocent in this case.
Factually innocent is a ruling made only in rare circumstances but it means Susan Mellen can claim US$100 a day, from the State of California, for every day that she spent in prison.
After 17 years it adds up to a tidy sum, more than $600,000 which, I am sure, will be a huge help to Susan Mellen as she faces life on the outside.
Mellen said she cried every night in prison but never lost faith that she would be reunited with her three now-grown up children.
Her youngest were aged seven and nine when she was arrested. They have a lot of catching up to do.
Mellen scrawled the word “freedom” on the bottom of her shoes because she never gave up hope she would be free one day.
Try as I might, I can find nothing redeeming about the fact that it took 17 years for justice to finally be done for Suan Mellen.
Unfortunately, the system can’t give her back the very thing that she is most entitled to.
The life she lost.