innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Monday, May 01, 2006

Free At Last

Monday, May 01, 2006
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

DNA exonerations are becoming oft-repeated refrains in the halls of justice. Freedom sounds like a sweet lullaby.
Eighteen lonely years of Drew Whitley's life have been wrongly taken -- squandered in prison.

Not once, but twice evidence from DNA testing has shown Mr. Whitley, 50, didn't kill Noreen Malloy, the night manager at a fast-food restaurant near Kennywood Park in 1988. DNA in hairs found in a stocking mask worn by Ms. Malloy's killer don't match Mr. Whitley.

Last week, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Anthony Mariani vacated his second-degree murder conviction and granted a new trial. District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. plans to seek to have the charge dismissed today, making Mr. Whitley a free man.

Mr. Whitley always maintained his innocence and petitioned for six years to have DNA samples in the case tested. The testing of samples -- once thought lost in a flood and then found in 2004 -- have now saved him from a life in prison. It's chilling to know that flood waters could have washed away the chance he had for freedom.

We celebrate his pending release and a justice system increasingly willing to review its own miscarriages in the name of truth. DNA evidence has exonerated more than 174 wrongfully convicted people nationwide, according to the Innocence Project in New York. Last year in Allegheny County, Thomas Doswell, who had been convicted of a 1986 rape, was proven innocent via DNA evidence and set free after spending 19 years in prison.

Under the direction of Post-Gazette staff writer Bill Moushey, the Innocence Institute of Point Park University -- which teaches students investigative reporting by researching allegations of wrongful convictions -- has studied Mr. Whitley's case for five years and been instrumental in his anticipated exoneration.

"Justice delayed is justice denied," said 19th century British Prime Minister William Gladstone. What price can one place on the loss of freedom? No amount of money can ever adequately compensate Mr. Whitley for the more than 6,500 days spent in jail, the 18 years of living lost, but that doesn't mean a civilized and compassionate society shouldn't try.

Twenty-two states offer compensation to wrongly imprisoned people. Pennsylvania isn't one of them, but such legislation has been proposed in both chambers of the General Assembly. Life and career counseling also should be afforded to people whose lives have been so horrifically derailed.

The wrongly imprisoned deserve more than a heartfelt "We're sorry" and "Good luck!" when they walk out of a dank, dark prison into the light of freedom.

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