The reason is based in the prevailing wisdom of the American justice system, which views recantations as untrustworthy, acts not of conscience, but of sympathy or bribery or coercion. That view is so deeply ingrained that one judge, rejecting one of Mr. Bermudez’s appeals in 1995, said candidly that five recantations were simply too many to believe.
Wow is that annoying. Quick poll: Are all five witnesses more likely to recant their testimony because they've all been bribed, or because there was a systematic problem in how their testimony was obtained in the first place that they're trying to correct? Of course, if only two of the witnesses recanted, I have no doubt this same judge would point to the other three as proof that the conviction is still valid.
I bring this up, because the now exonerated Duke Lacrosse players say that their ordeal has exposed them to the manifest injustices in the criminal justice system. I don't doubt it. They've pledged to work to reform some of these excesses, and I wish them all the luck in the world towards it. The Duke players had access to excellent lawyers, constant media exposure (which must have been painful but also is responsible for publicizing much of the exonerating evidence), and DNA evidence. Many people can't count on any of that. One hopes that these recent events can spark reform efforts that benefit not just innocent upper-class Whites, but innocent men like Mr. Bermudez.
I've been waiting to hear from the feminist blogosphere on this development in the Duke case. Commentary by feminist bloggers can be found at Alas, a Blog, Feministing, Feministe, Reverse Paranoia, and Slant Truth. They're hardly of one mind, and my links don't necessarily signal agreement. But they're thinking hard about the implications of the announcement. And that's worth noting.
For my part, I do now believe that these men were innocent of rape. That does not mean that a sexual assault did not occur (other people were at the party that night). It doesn't mean that one did, either--I don't know. That they are innocent also does not mean that they are particularly good people--one has an assault conviction, another spouted some pretty racist stuff, and its relatively uncontested that the folks at the party harassed the stripper at the party, probably using racial language. But that falls through the wayside. I've stated before that I am terrified of being falsely accused of a crime. In all likelihood, that's what these men went through. They deserve our empathy for that. And I'll reiterate my hope that their story encourages us to make reforms in our legal system so that it is less likely to railroad innocent men who can't afford top-notch legal talent to prison.