Earlier this year Anthony Ray Hinton walked free after 30 years on death row for a double murder he did not commit. According to the US Death Penalty Information Centre, Mr Hinton was the 152nd person on death row to be cleared since 1973 and the second to be exonerated in 2015.
In Anthony Ray Hinton's situation, Chief attorney Bryan Stevenson said Mr Hinton, who is black, was wrongly convicted in part because the colour of his skin. Moreover, he noted race, poverty, inadequate legal assistance, and prosecutorial indifference to innocence conspired to create a textbook example of injustice.
Like this case, it appears as though technical gun casing checks were not done to the expected standard, certainly today, and for most cases, the use of DNA tests have illustrated person/s were not involved. To put a phrase on it, they were sent down by kangaroo courts.
The reasons for such outcomes are myriad - such as additional information wasn't available through lack of scientific testing, along with poor representation, bad judicial procedures, poverty of education and legal expertise - witnessed inevitable sent-downs - those that should have done their job's properly didn't and a sense of the an assumption of guilt simply because it's gone that far.
These people, like Anthony Ray Hinton, after years and years and years of failed attempts at getting such equality of defence, finally a break through occurs and a fresh kind of justice gets revealed and their release paper-work gets signed.
All Anthony Ray Hilton could say was that all those who were involved in his false incarceration will have to face God.
An easy cop-out
That to me sounds like an all too easy cop-out for personal accountability. In some sense it's the result of how the Nazi perpetrators excused their incomprehensible behaviour, that they were "following orders", therefore don't pin it on them for their actions. It was all part of the system. Anthony Ray Hilton has heard that spin since his release.
Is it possible to go back in time, in this case, 30 years back, and pin the ears back of those involved? What was their individual involvement? Why didn't they follow through. What pressures came to bear and from whom? What weren't the jurours told and why? Or is all swept under the carpet with nice politically correct phrases such as 'poverty, inadequate legal assistance, and prosecutorial indifference.'
Are those charged with investigating such horrific miss-carriages of justice just as guilty as their predecessors when they fail to track down these questions, as they say, like a blood hound - never sleeping, as it were - until every dark place is given light. Who knows, the trail may end up with the investigating police officer, the tricky prosecutor who took liberties, the judge who failed to check such fast talking, or further up the chain, to the Governor's desk.
Sadly, the reality is that such is only for Hollywood. I've recounted previously how in a Midsummer Murders story, a man who had spent 17 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit, returned and saw off three of his assumed perpetrators only for it to be revealed that a sister of one of these perpetrators did the deed all those years ago. The script writer, has those investigating this crime noting, the injustice of 17 years previously - led to these subsequent three murders.
How does a civil society deal with such woeful miss-carriages of justice. Consider those in such situations who have lost their chance of a complete life. No marriage. No children. No grand-parenting. No career. No true friends. No house and garden. No holidays. No church family. No enjoying the wider life.
To seal the fate of those who perpetrated such things ends up being counter-productive – another family is left devastated. There are times when public condemnation of the people involved might engage a more horrible outcome.
But the same applies for a host of other people in our civil society. Those who are falsely accused and later cleared. The mud sticks yet the accusers walk away. What about junior sports (add all cultural activities) where a favoured athlete is given the nod yet clearly a better performer is left out. What of becoming cheated out of career promotions. The list is endless.
The bible is clear on forgiveness, and yet maintains accountability. In other words there is personal forgiveness yet the civil society for it to function at all, requires public accountability. The IT white collar thief might be forgiven by the more senior executive because they've been friends over some years, but the civil society demands there be an accountability. It could end up being several years of imprisonment. Yet those whom he cheated may never get back what was stolen.
The Scriptures are also clear that ultimate justice belongs to God, and at the same time allocates the process of a functioning society with appointment of well respected people – such as the advice to Moses' of his father-in-law Jethro, the just Judges of the Old Testament, and the Apostles appointing deacons in the Acts.
The key issues above relate to when all of it breaks down and individuals find themselves in situations not of their own doing and out of their control. Sadly, the system is never free of such problems as non-perfect people like you and me are involved. Therefore, however unjust, however sad, each person has to come to terms with what has happened and develop strategies to overcome mental and physical outcomes.
There may be situations whereby evidence still remains after many years, where those involved in perpetrating an injustice, are brought to book. We see this with the Holocaust still. We sometimes see it movies. Sadly, many escape legal justice. Can anyone truly see a prosecution against -
- an over zealous prosecutorial legal team who go out 150% to win their case with innuendoes and stretching plausibility when in reality it was all circumstantial.
- What of the jurours who were dazzled by such a presentation.
- Or the inexperienced defence lawyer. The result is 42 years in prison and yet not guilty.
Personal forgiveness is the first step (healing and forgiveness are bed fellows). Accountability is a necessary civil matter for the good order of society. Without 'just accountability' our society falls into chaos. Ultimately, as Anthony Ray Hilton said, we all will at some time, front up to God.
But that should not deter anyone from chasing true and unequivocal justice so as to retain the good ordering of society through civil society accountability. We are all eye witnesses to this right now on the global stage with FIFA. Does anyone really think that such corruption should not be rooted out. Likewise for Anthony Ray Hilton and similar horrific situations – great and small.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html