Tuesday, February 23, 2010

NJ Woman Gets Prison For Rape Lie

Over 30 years ago, I met Izzie Zimmerman. When he was a kid, he was involved with a tough crowd. Local cops and the District Attorney figured there would be no harm in cherry picking evidence. So they left out some exculpatory evidence, and stretched some other details. Izzy got the death penalty. It was later commuted to life in prison. He did 24 years until the state accepted the evidence that proved him innocent. He enjoyed 21 years of life as a free man. He died 4 years after receiving a million dollars. The state that took away his freedom took back his estate when no survivors could be found.

Another case has hit the papers of innocence lost to a state that doles out justice to all who can pay for it. In New Jersey, Biurny Peguro, 31 was sentenced to up to 3 years in prison for false testimony about a rape that sent a man to jail for a rape that never happened Associated Press reports as follows.

"A woman who fabricated a gang rape accusation was sentenced Tuesday to up to three years behind bars herself, saying she was riven with remorse for sending an innocent man to prison.

Biurny Peguero, 27, pleaded guilty in December to perjury, admitting she made up the September 2005 incident that unjustly put construction worker William McCaffrey in jail and prison for nearly four years. A judge overturned his rape conviction in December, with new DNA evidence also playing a role.

"I question myself every day as to how I could have done this," Peguero told a Manhattan state court judge.

Peguero originally said McCaffrey was the ringleader among three men who raped her at knifepoint after luring her into their car. She met them after a night out at a Manhattan nightclub with female friends.

McCaffrey, now 32, said she had agreed to go with them to a party. He said they dropped her off unharmed after she changed her mind."

Even in the age of DNA, you still have junk justice where emotion laden testimony can sway the hearts and minds of jury members. With an adversarial system of justice, you have two sides trying to get procedural advantage, in which evidence is excluded and technicalities exploited. Unfortunately, that is the state of our legal system, in which the truth is too often a casualty.

Even when he was guilty in the eyes of the law, there were citizens who stood up for the righst of William McCaffrey. In his quest for freedom, he was defended by Glenn A. Garber, a lawyer who works with the Exoneration Initiative, an organisation that identifies and takes on the cases of the wrongfully convicted. The EXI web site describes their mission as follows.

"Hundreds of DNA exonerations in the United States over the last 20 years have raised serious concerns about the criminal justice system's failure to protect the innocent from wrongful conviction. But the DNA exonerations are only the tip of the iceberg, representing a mere fraction of the wrongful convictions. However without DNA evidence, very few lawyers and organizations have the expertise and the resources to effectively handle these extremely difficult non-DNA cases. EXI was founded to take on this important work.

Expanding on the efforts of DNA-based organizations such as the Innocence Project, EXI is taking the Innocence Movement to the next level. When selecting our cases we apply the lessons learned from the DNA exonerations to non-DNA cases, focusing on the problems proven to cause wrongful conviction. We then approach prosecutors and Courts urging them to take a second look at convictions and undo injustices."

When there is enough legal work for nationwide organisations to take on the causes of the wrongfully convicted, then something is clearly wrong with our criminal justice system. When a person goes to prison, it rips a hole in the life of a family. Children grow up with a missing parent, often ending up at high risk of becoming offenders themselves. The violence of prison life is all too often tacitly condoned by the state and often contributes to creating criminals who are fueled by rage.

America has one of the highest percentages of incarcerated citizens in the world. The first place we should look in questioning this state of affairs is those who have no business being there in the first place. Americans who care about justice should applaud and support the efforts of organisations like The Exoneration Initiative and The Innocence Project. It is a pity that there is even a need for such organisations. But as long as the need exists, we must not close our eyes or our hearts.

No comments: