Friday, April 13, 2007

Quick Thoughts on the Duke Lacrosse Case and Other Innocent Folk

LGM documents what happens to innocent men who aren't rich enough to afford top-flight legal talent and don't have DNA evidence that can "prove" their innocence. Fernando Bermudez was ID'd in a shooting by five witnesses. The problem is they were all coerced into making the ID, and have all since recanted. He's still in prison. This was the part that made me want to bang my head against a wall:
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.


pacatrue said...

It does seem like some form of assault occurred that night. After all, the only reason there are DNA samples is because the dancer was covered in the DNA of "several men". Whether or not it amounted to rape is unclear, but there are other forms of assault that deserve to be prosecuted. I don't mean that these three students were involved in any way. But something wrong, and probably illegal, seems to have occurred, and it now appears that the real perpetrators are going to walk away.

Anonymous said...

Pacatrue...I encourage you to visit K.C. Johnson's Durham in Wonderland blog.

Actually, nothing wrong or illegal happened that night.

The second black stripper, interviewed by the media regarding the allegations, called it a "crock".

You are inaccurate on the DNA evidence. She had five men's DNA on her...but none from any of the lacrosse players (Nifong tried to suppress this exculpatory evidence).

None of the different narratives the accuser gave (there were no less than 11!) fitted with the evidence. For example, when she said Seligman was raping her, he was photographed (timestamped) at a bank machine on the other side of town.

In essence...everyone at the party, including the other stripper, contradicted the accuser. There was no physical evidence. None of the different timelines made sense.

Anyhow, I enourage you to check out KC Johnson's remarkable blog. He is a Clinton Democrat, but don't hold that against him :)

Anonymous said...

David, I submit to you that the reason the case was in the media spotlight for so long was because of an intense desire to "get the rich whities."

The crimes committed by D.A. Nifong and the lies told by the Duke 88 didn't hurt either.

Pacatrue, assuming there were perpetrators of a crime - a bold assumption - they were always going to walk away. Only the accused were interested in the truth.

pacatrue said...

Marlowe, I think you misinterpreted what I was saying, which is always partly my fault. I am simply pointing out that five different men ended up with their "DNA" on the stripper. I probably don't hang out at enough stripper parties, but I don't believe that is typical behavior. Even lap dances that might cause that aren't usually with the men's pants off, are they?

I in no way am asserting that the three accused players were any of those five men who were there. I'm simply mentioning that someone, some other people, were covering this person in their DNA, very possibly not at the wishes of the dancer. So the possible tragedy is not only that three innocent people were accused of a crime, but that five other people who might be guilty of something were never accused at all.

Anonymous said...

I am not buying that they are innocent. It's just that there was no concrete proof of their guilt. They are typical privileged punk athletes, and my instincts tell me they are guilty.

Nifong did his job by investigating accusations of a crime. He did nothing wrong.

Anonymous said...

I'm simply mentioning that someone, some other people, were covering this person in their DNA, very possibly not at the wishes of the dancer. (pacatrue)

There was no evidence of sexual assault on the "victim" according to the nurse who checked her out that night. What there was was evidence of consensual sexual contact of which the "victim" acknowledged having with more than one man just days before the alleged incident.

and my instincts tell me they are guilty.

Well, instincts are certainly more relevant than things like evidence, alibis and witnesses.

Anonymous said...

The accuser had four appointments in hotel rooms with her customers the week end of the party. Her driver Jarriel Johnson stated that in his written statement to the police. There is the explanation of the DNA.
If you read the NC AG report it states there was no time during the accusers stay at the party for an assault to have taken place.