innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Justice Demands It

This editorial ran on Monday, 12/12/2005, in the Detroit Free Press

INNOCENCE PROJECTS MUST NOT BE UNDERMINED BY MURDER ARREST OF FREED WISCONSIN MAN

A Wisconsin man freed after spending 18 years in prison for a sexual assault he didn't commit was charged last month with murder. The case is tragic and troubling, but it should not undermine efforts to expand the use of DNA technology as an investigative tool, particularly to free people who have been wrongly convicted.

Whether or not Steven Avery, 43, is now guilty of murder, it is certain he did not commit the crime for which he was imprisoned until two years ago. Avery was released after lawyers from the Wisconsin Innocence Project cleared him through DNA evidence.

His recent arrest in the death of a 25-year-old photographer has
clouded not only Avery's credibility but also the work of dozens of groups to exonerate falsely convicted inmates. That work is vital. It not only frees the innocent but also can enable police to find the guilty.

DNA technology has exposed widespread problems in the criminal justice system, including inadequate public defender systems and the fallibility of eyewitness identifications.

The new accusations against Avery are not related to his earlier wrongful arrest. Nor are they typical. Nationwide, DNA testing has exonerated 163 people since 1989. Only one, convicted of sexual assault, has committed a serious crime since release.

The larger point is that people ought to be locked up for crimes they commit, not for those they might commit, otherwise most of the adult population could be incarcerated.

Without doubt, the innocence movement has lost a spokesman. If Avery is guilty of a brutal murder, he should be punished harshly. But no one should ever apologize for freeing a man who was falsely convicted.

The important work of exonerating the innocent through DNA technology must go on. Justice demands it.

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