In December 2012, Katie Couric reported on two highly emotional stories, in which innocent victims lost years of their lives in prison for crimes they did not commit. The case of Thomas Kennedy sounds so outrageous it might be the stuff of a soap opera. Unfortunately, it is all too real. Kennedy, a Washington State scrap yard worker, was accused of raping his then 11-year-old daughter, Cassandra. Kennedy and his wife had divorced, and Cassandra felt he was not around enough; to get even, she created a story about being molested by her father. On Couric’s interview, Kennedy displayed his still ready humor tinged with bitterness, saying he believed his “innocence would prevail…. I guess I watched a lot of Matlock. Cuz it don’t happen like that no more.”
Despite Kennedy’s faith in the Matlock System of justice, the jury found him guilty. The accusation was based solely on Cassandra’s courtroom testimony. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and served nine of them before his daughter came forward and admitted her accusation was a lie, saying she could no longer live with the guilt. Prosecutor Sue Bauer says she will not be charged with perjury because that might discourage other legitimate rape victims from speaking up. You can watch the charged reunion between father and daughter on Couric’s show here.
On the same show, Couric reported on the story of Audrey Edmunds, a Wisconsin mother accused of murdering a seven-month-old baby she was caring for at the time. The baby was fussy the day that Edmunds had her in her care. She propped her up with her bottle and went to get her own children ready for school. When she returned to get the infant, she was unconscious. After being airlifted to a Milwaukee hospital, the baby died later that night. Doctors said the baby had been brutally shaken and her head knocked against something; Edmunds was charged with first degree reckless homicide and was given an 18-year prison sentence. She served 11 years of the sentence, losing touch with her three daughters and divorcing her husband during that time. Eventually, with the help of Wisconsin Innocence Project Attorney Keith Findley, new evidence was uncovered that established her innocence. Today, Edmunds has written a book called It Happened to Audrey and is an activist for those who have been wrongfully accused of crimes they did not commit.
Katie Couric only covered these two stories, but instances of the wrongful accusation are all too common. Consider the case of Daryll Hunt, wrongfully convicted in 1984 for the rape and murder of a Winston-Salem woman. Eyewitnesses declared they had seen Hunt with the victim, and his girlfriend testified that he admitted his guilt to her. Tried before an all-white jury, he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. He served 18 years before DNA evidence was made available. The semen found on the victim’s body matched the DNA of another man, Willard E. Brown. Hunt was released in 2005, and Brown has since pleaded guilty to the crime.
Reggie Hays was only 14 when he was convicted of the death of an Air Force baseman in Las Vegas. He was in the car with three older teenagers when they committed the crime. Hays remained at the scene, showed police officers the evidence, and testified against the three perpetrators. Despite his courage and cooperation, he was still convicted of the crime and served 13 years in prison. He was released in 1998 and later received full pardon from the courts.
Another case of outrageous injustice is that of Dewey Bozella. In 1977, at the age of 24, Bozella was accused of the murder of a 92-year-old Poughkeepsie woman which had occurred six years before. The primary evidence used to convict him was the testimony of two criminals, even though there were fingerprints of another man at the scene of the crime. In 1990, Bozella was retried. The courts offered to set him free if he would plead guilty, but Bozella refused to lie about a crime he did not commit. Eventually, the Innocence Project heard of his plight and worked to have his conviction removed. He was freed in 2009.
These are but five of the hundreds, if not thousands, of people wrongfully convicted of crimes. Many of them are still in prison waiting for someone to recognize their innocence. Even when released, people who have been wrongfully accused still face public persecution and the incredible difficulty in finding jobs. It is up to dedicated criminal defense attorneys to ensure that those who are accused receive a fair trial and the best defense possible.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a criminal defense attorney in Chicago, Illinois. A former prosecutor in Cook County, Mr. Weisberg is a member of the Capital Litigation Trial Bar, an elite group of criminal attorneys who are certified by the Illinois Supreme Court to try death penalty cases. He is also a member of the Federal Trial Bar. Mr. Weisberg is a solo practitioner at the Law Offices of Andrew M. Weisberg.