American Justice On Trial

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.

WTF?

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.

Justice For Ricky

I came across something the other day that could best be described as anyone’s worst nightmare.

Guaranteed to be if your skin is of a certain hue.

A man in Ohio has just been released from prison, after 39 years, because the justice system got it terribly, terribly wrong.

The backstory goes something like this.

Ricky Jackson is now 57 but at the time of the alleged offence he was 18 years old.

He was convicted, along with two other men, of a brutal crime. The callous, cold- blooded murder of a money order collector at a grocery store in Cleveland.

Police claim the three men beat the money order collector, threw acid in his face before shooting him twice.

Now you can understand law enforcement authorities wanting to solve this crime. It was unspeakable and grotesque.

The only problem was they accused and convicted the wrong men. All of them were innocent. Unfortunately for them it has taken a generation to establish that fact.

So the question might be asked: How did the system get it so wrong?

Try racism for a start. The accused men are black. Being born black in the United States is almost a crime in itself as trite as that may sound.

In other words, the police and the system are less likely to believe in your innocence if you are black.

The opposite is the norm.

Being black is equated with guilt even if you aren’t guilty as in this case.

But again, how did they get it so wrong?

Here’s the main reason.

Ricky Jackson was convicted on the supposed eyewitness testimony of a 12-year-old boy, who now, as a grown man all these years later, says he made up a story about what he saw.

Made up a story? WTF?

The 12-year-old boy is now a 53 year-old-man called Eddie Vernon who now says everything he said way back in 1975 was a lie. All lies.

Vernon’s web of lies came unstuck after he confessed to his church pastor.

Vernon was on the school bus at the time of the crime and didn’t see a thing. However, he claimed to have heard two pops that sounded like firecrackers exploding. He lied to police because he thought he was “doing the right thing.”

Doing the right thing?

Give me a break.

How anyone, even if they were 12 at the time, could think that putting an innocent man in prison for a crime he didn’t do can somehow be the right thing is hard to comprehend.

Needless to say Vernon is now claiming that he was not solely to blame for this travesty. He says the police put him up to it. He accused them of threatening to put his parents in prison for perjury if he didn’t stick to his story.

It might explain what happened but it certainly doesn’t excuse it. Not as far I am concerned.

Now if you think you might have heard the worst of this story. Wait. There’s more.

Apart from Eddie Vernon’s testimony there was NO other evidence against any of the three men including Rickey Jackson. It didn’t matter. They were convicted anyway and sentenced.

Wait for it.

To death.

Yep. They all got the death penalty. But before they could be put to death, Ohio abolished the death penalty, three years after their convictions, in 1978.

Instead the three men had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

So Ricky Jackson can count himself lucky he can actually walk out of prison a free man and breathe air like the rest of us. If the authorities in the state of Ohio,hadn’t changed the law, he would not be alive today.

Ricky Jackson now becomes the longest serving prisoner in the United States to be exonerated of his crime. But there is nothing in any way redeeming by having that notoriety.

He served most of his life in jail for something he didn’t do. That is just as brutal and grotesque as the murder of the money order collector in my view.

Ricky Jackson sobbed when he heard news of his release. I’m coming home, he said.

Now authorities must find a way, somehow, to make amends to Ricky Jackson for all those lost years. Of course they can’t. But millions of dollars in compensation sounds to me like a good place to start.

Of his co-accused, one of them was released from jail after 25 years and the other is still in prison but expected to be free very soon.

But before we all get carried away with how justice has finally won in the end. Think about how many more Ricky Jackson’s there might be.

Either languishing in prison for a crime they didn’t do or worse still buried in their local cemetery.