In South Carolina, like most states, sometimes bad things happen and they are crimes. Sometimes, they are so serious that they amount to allegations of murder.
An accusation of a crime when one is innocent of that crime is an injustice that our criminal justice system has protections to correct. However, at times something goes horribly wrong and an actually innocent person not only suffers the accusation and trial, but a conviction and sentence of incarceration. Sometimes, that prison term is for a lifetime.
According to CBS 6, just such a travesty happened to a teenager in 1971 when he was accused of a terrible crime, convicted and imprisoned for the next 46 years. The report does not make clear if he had private defense counsel of his own, or received assistance from a public defender.
In any event, neither jury nor defense received all of the evidence from the prosecution. That evidence was also not otherwise discovered by the defense, which caused an unjust conviction.
Witness’ doubt as to identification never disclosed to defense
A major aspect of the prosecutor’s case was the victim’s testimony that linked the man to the crime. However, despite identifying the man in a line-up three months after the crime, the victim expressed doubt. She advised the police that she doubted her identification because the perpetrator was actually taller with a different voice than the man she identified. However, although not clear from the report, it may be that her statement of doubt to the police never made it to the attention of the defendant.
Similar subsequent crime never shared with defense
In addition, unbeknownst to the defense, a very similar crime occurred a few weeks after the crime in question. In that case, the suspect had many similarities to the man ultimately convicted of the prior crime. However, the prosecution again failed to share that important information with the defense. Had it done so, the likelihood of the conviction of the man of the first crime would have been far less.
A judge overturned the conviction after a new legal team fought for justice for the 65-year-old man who had lived the past 46 years behind bars. While the state prosecutor today is seeking review of that overturning by the Supreme Court, the import of careful investigation and legal analysis when one is actually innocent of a crime, but convicted anyway, is clear.