wrongfully convicted

Sitting in Judaics class almost 9 years ago, I listened to Ms. Giveon talking about a former student of hers who had been accused of murder. He was roughly the same age as my sister (she was 19 at the time) and I presumed that they had gone to I. Weiner at the same time. I didn’t know if he was guilty or not but I understood that the incident weighed heavily on the Jewish community.

Some time later he was convicted and incarcerated and I didn’t think much more about it.

A few years ago I realized that Ms. Giveon’s former student was actually the brother of a friend of mine. My friend and I have never talked about it and I am afraid to ask about it, as I’m sure it’s a very sensitive, raw subject.

Last night I came across a website** that details the injustices in the brother’s case (that is currently being appealed) and outlines why the man is innocent. Reading it, I could not believe that a jury could convict someone with such a lack of evidence! Innocent until proven guilty, I thought, and I didn’t see any proof.

I closed my laptop, turned off the lights, and tried to get some sleep.  But I lay in bed thinking about my friend’s brother. I couldn’t relax. Sure, it’s serious, but why am I this torn up about it?  And that’s when I realized that this is the second time in the past week when I’ve heard about someone my age being (in my opinion, wrongfully) convicted of murder.

In Italy last Friday, American study-abroad student Amanda Knox was found guilty of murdering her roommate. Another case in which there was not enough evidence to prove that she was guilty . Please read this New York Times blog for details: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/02/amanda-knox-revisited/.

What scares me about both of these cases is that both of the defendants were my age when they were convicted. It could have been me. It could have been me and that’s the point. Would I ever kill someone? I can say with almost certainty, no. But by some twist of fate our judicial system could still send me to jail for the rest of my life.

I often think of the stipulation that a jury must find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt as preventing many murderers, rapists, and thieves from getting the punishment they deserve. But that stipulation is there precisely to protect those of us who are innocent. That’s why the defendant is always innocent until proven otherwise. Because, in effect we believe that it’s better to let a guilty person go than to convict an innocent. The law has enough humility to understand that lawyers, policemen, and witnesses make mistakes, and when someone’s life is at stake, it’s better to give that person the benefit of the doubt.

As jury members, as friends, and as strangers we too should keep that humility and remember that there are few things that we can truly be certain about.

**To protect the identity of my friend I am not posting a link to the website.



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2 responses to “wrongfully convicted

  1. sarah

    i’m not saying whether i agree or disagree with what happened to amanda knox (and trust me, i had some of the same feelings as you- i studied abroad in the same country at the exact same time as knox)… but i do want to make a few comments. first, the two cases aren’t on the same playing field because the european judicial system is very different from the american one. she can’t be tried like she would be in america bc the crime took place in italy. i would also like to note that this case has not been reported truthfully/objectively in the united states because the woman convicted is american in a foreign country. research “kercher trial” rather than “amanda knox” on the internet and you’ll get much more information- in europe the articles have the subject of the victim, not the ‘murderer.’ reading italian articles on the full trial would help, but that kind of presents a problem for you. furthermore, this case is/was extremely questionable. the girl was on illegal drugs in the room next door to her roommate. she had admitted to hearing the screams of the girl. the apartment had been locked from the *outside*. her phone and her boyfriend’s phone had been turned off at the exact same time for twelve hours right after. she incriminated her boss who wasn’t even there (hence the extra year of jail time)- which proves she is questionable. her dna was found with the roommate’s on the weapon. and so on and so forth. the facts are sketchy and it doesn’t help when the prosecutor is already being investigated for making up evidence for previous cases (and cited from an american newspaper about how seattle broods unhappy people?…). on top of which we all know how corrupt italy is (a country which is only in the eu bc of the mafia’s help- true story) my point is this isn’t an easy and shut case; it can’t be judged so simply. and this is not you! this wouldn’t happen to you because in all honesty you would not have handled the situation so poorly like knox if she were innocent.

    • throwinginthetowel

      You’re right–our judicial system is not the same as Italy’s and as unfamiliar as I am with our own, I am even moreso with that of Italy. I realized that my wording didn’t make it explicit that I was not applying “beyond a reasonable” doubt to Amanda Knox’s case but rather speaking generally about any American case. Although, I will criticize the Italian judicial system for making antiquated woman-as-evil-sadistic-sexcrazed-witch accusations permissible in court! And I will also fault the Italian judicial system for permitting the DAs to be so chummy with the press.
      There are a lot of things that implicate Amanda Knox but it seems like most of the evidence is circumstantial. Although it is very possible that she did it, it is also conceivable that she did not. I wasn’t in the courtroom, I don’t know her personally so I don’t know if she is innocent or not, but from what I do know about the trial I’m not convinced that she is guilty. And that is exactly why I called the post “wrongfully convicted” instead of “wrongfully accused.”
      The biggest thing that keeps me from believing that it was her is what the hell would her motive have been? I don’t buy the deviant sexual motive.
      To top it off, my fears of being mistakenly convicted of murder are only exacerbated by the fact that I cannot trust neither my own judicial system nor that of another country. Sure you can’t compare them, but they are both susceptible to condemning innocents (as any system is), and being made aware of the fates of two people my age scared me.

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