Criminal Justice

Florida Sees Its 12th Exoneration


Last week, James Bain was released from a Florida prison after serving 35 years for a crime he didn't commit. DNA testing finally cleared Bain of raping a young boy in 1974.

Bain is the 12th exonoree in Florida since the onset of DNA testing. Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell, who has pursued the phony Florida dog handler cases I've written about previously, is calling on the state to set up an innocence commission.

Already, three men convicted with help from a discredited dog handler — who manufactured bogus evidence to connect suspects with crimes — have been exonerated after spending years, even decades, behind bars.

But the dog handler testified in many more cases. And judicial activists are convinced others were wrongfully convicted.

Yet the men who could actually do something about that — Gov. Charlie Crist, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Brevard-Seminole State Attorney Norm Wolfinger — have refused to conduct an investigation.

Instead, these three career politicians have argued that it's up to the defendants themselves to prove their own innocence … from behind bars … and without resources.

Then, in cases where the wrongfully convicted are finally freed, they respond: See, the system works!

The lack of shame and humanity is appalling…

"If there's one thing these guys have in common," said Centurion Ministries attorney Paul Casteleiro, "it's that they are all guys nobody will miss."

They didn't have the resources to mount vigorous defenses when they were first charged — or knowledgeable attorneys who could combat the tactics, such as jail-house snitches, that are so often used to convict them.

This is a common refrain from state officials and prosecutors. "It isn't our job to find innocent people in the prisons." Even in jurisdictions where there's every reason to believe an unusually high number of innocent people have been convicted. They threw the state's resources at putting the people behind bars in the first place, but argue it's the responsibility of the wrongly convicted themselves or cash-strapped non-profit groups like the Innocence Project to bring the cases to the attention of the courts—usually as the same prosecutor offices fight them every step of the way.

It makes what Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins is doing all the more remarkable—and commendable.

Related: The Washington Post has a strong editorial decrying the delayed justice in the case of Donald Gates, also freed last week after serving 27 years for a rape and murder in Washington, D.C. He was convicted due to testimony from a fraudulent FBI crime lab worker and lies from a paid FBI informant. DNA testing showed he didn't commit the crime.