Criminal Justice

Another DNA Exoneration in Mississippi

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Arthur Johnson is finally free, after serving 16 years for a rape he did not commit.  His case is yet another example of just how incredibly stubborn Mississippi judges and prosecutors can be to revisit a conviction, even when presented with overwhelming evidence of innocence.

Despite several alibi witnesses, a Sunflower County jury convicted Johnson of a 1992 rape and burglary based on the victim's identification. Judge Ashley Hines sentenced him to 55 years behind bars in 1993. Prior to his conviction, Johnson had no criminal record, and the prosecution presented no physical evidence of his guilt during the trial.

Maw first petitioned for a DNA test to prove Johnson's innocence in 2005. After two years of delays, the test results conclusively proved Johnson's innocence November 2007. The Mississippi Supreme Court ordered Sunflower County to review the case Jan. 4, 2008, which it did Feb. 25. Despite the evidence of Johnson's innocence in the rape, Hines, again presiding in the Sunflower County Circuit Court, ordered a new trial and levied a $25,000 bail. Sunflower District Attorney Dewayne Richardson said he would retry Johnson, claiming the eyewitness identification was correct.

Incredible.  It wasn't until Innocence Project attorney Emily Maw insisted that Mississippi run the DNA from the rape kit through the state's database and a match was found that the judge and prosecutor finally admitted Johnson is innocent.  Their obstinacy ought to be criminal.  It bears a striking resemblance to what happened in the Kennedy Brewer case.

Maw is asking that Johnson be given a public hearing and an official apology, but she says the chances of that happening are "slim."  My work on these issues in Mississippi suggests she's right.  What's particularly troubling about Mississippi is not that it's criminal justice system is flawed.  These problems exist all over the country.  It's the utter lack of shame from Mississippi's public officials in these cases.  There's little embarrassment, remorse, or interest in doing anything other than the minimum they think they can get by with in order to make people stop asking questions.

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  1. Dewayne Richardson perhaps should go fuck himself.

  2. so…what the hell is up with mississippi? or do they merely seem more tenacious, even or especially in error, than other states’ prosecutorial wings?

  3. “Oct. 1, 2008, that comparison revealed the actual perpetrator: a man Sunflower County convicted of a different 1992 burglary and sexual assault. Released in 2002, the man committed another sexual assault for which he is currently serving time in Colorado.”

    I wonder if they will apologize to the woman that was sexually assaulted in Colorado by the real perpetrator in this case? Had they done their job rather than framing this guy, he would have been in jail in Mississipi instead of victimizing someone in Colorado. That is sort of the forgotton double bonus of this kind of incompetance; not only does an innocent person go to jail, but also a guilty person goes free and is free to continue victimizing people. Dispicable.

  4. Isn’t that name spelled “DUHwayne”?

    -jcr

  5. I’m happy Johnson is finally free.
    Can’t the prosecutor be held responsible for his incompetence and/or negligence? How infuriating!

  6. John:

    I think that a lot of the hardline people that think “better that an innocent man be jailed than a guilty one walk free” often fail to recognize that fact. When the innocent man is jailed the police stop looking for the guilty one. Jailing an innocent means you are letting the guilty guy get away.

  7. Does Mississippi have a mechanism for voter initiatives, similar to California’s? I wonder if the citizens there would choose to have a justice system over a prison industry if they were given the chance.

    -jcr

  8. Despite several alibi witnesses, a Sunflower County jury convicted Johnson of a 1992 rape and burglary based on the victim’s identification.

    And WTF is up with that. Guess they all look alike or something. Mississippi must have the highest ratio of illiterates and inbreds in the country.

  9. “I wonder if they will apologize to the woman that was sexually assaulted in Colorado by the real perpetrator in this case?”

    MS is a mecca for tort actions, might this be one? Can the prosecutor’s office be sued?

  10. I wonder if they will apologize to the woman that was sexually assaulted in Colorado by the real perpetrator in this case?

    Considering the fact that she ID’ed the innocent man and her improper identification was the only “evidence” used to get this guy convicted, I doubt that she is pining for an apology.

  11. Arthur Johnson is black. Had he been white, I suspect his conviction would have been overturned a lot sooner. I hate to play the race card (I’m white) but it seems like blacks get less consideration in these cases.

  12. Let me guess, ChicagoTom, the woman was white.

  13. ChicagoTom,

    Did you bother to read the article? The woman in Colorado had nothing to do with Johnson’s conviction: She was raped after it by the guy who should have been rotting in jail. The woman in Mississippi had something to do with it, but no one suggested she get an apology.

  14. “Arthur Johnson is black.”

    Ever see a Mississipi chain gang? Nothing but black folk.

  15. Maybe we can give Mississippi some restitution for the Civil War and let them secede. Or maybe pull a fast one and secede from them first!

  16. I agree with Bingo. About 20% of the obese US population would not count on our statistics either.

  17. “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about.”

  18. If ever there were a reason to have a civil rights division in the Justice Dept, this would be it. These DA’s and their enablers need to start getting arrested for this sort of thing. Mistakes happen, but this sort of willful foot dragging is criminal. I hope the guy sues Miss. for a boatload of money.

  19. At some point, one of these nitwit prosecutors needs to be disbarred. Permanently. The simplest solution is often the best, and this guy seems better suited to flipping burgers anyway.

  20. “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about.”

    And if you have done something wrong, and you’re a prosecutor, you definitely don’t have anything to worry about.

  21. Radley

    Where is / how about keeping a central list of the characters (along with links to their abuses) involved in cases like this – you know, a rogues gallery / wall of shame kind of thing?

  22. WTF is wrong with Mississipi? Can we just retroactively put them back in the CSA?

  23. Yes, they are especially stubborn in Mississippi. But as a native and one with extensive family there, it seems that the main problem is that people don’t give a shit. The white people that is (I’m white). I go home for a visit and ask my family if they have heard about the crooked coroner in Hinds County that sepcializes in coming to the conclusion in an authopsy that the police are hoping for. They look at me like I’m crazy. Why the hell am I worrying about that?
    So too many white people don’t care and if you think state prosecutors listen to black folks opinion, you don’t know Mississippi. Or course, let a black person get in power (Noxebee country) and they act just as bad (suppressing white vote).
    I want to go back there to retire, but it is not going to be easy. Maybe I can become one of those outside agitators they all hate so much.

    Joanne

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