Thursday, December 17, 2009

Justice Denied

"Justice delayed is justice denied."

That's generally attributed to William Gladstone, though nobody seems to be able to find just where he might have said it. Regardless, it's an old idea, at least as old as Magna Carta. Back in 1215 King John was made to sign off on it.

To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.
The perhaps-Gladstonian phrase crossed the Atlantic at least by 1924 when the Ohio Supreme Court used it in Gohman v. City of St. Bernard (no free copy available, sorry) to describe a Nebraska case that kicked around the courts of that state for some ten years.

Whatever the idea's pedigree, nobody seems to have sent the memo to Florida.

His name is James Bain. He's a free man today, and it's about time.

Back in 1974, a 9-year-old boy was kidnapped and raped by a man he described as having bushy sideburns and a mustache. He picked Bain out of a lineup. Convicted. 35 years in prison. 35 years.

In 2001, Florida enacted a law permitting cases to be reopened for DNA testing.
  • Bain wrote a motion asking for the testing. Longhand. Denied.
  • Bain wrote another motion asking for the testing. Longhand. Denied.
  • Bain wrote another motion asking for the testing. Longhand. Denied.
  • Bain wrote another motion asking for the testing. Longhand. Denied.
Pepe Le Pew said, "You know, most men would get discouraged by now, fortunately for you, I am not most men." Fortunately for Bain, neither is he.

Bain wrote another motion asking for the testing. Longhand. Denied.

This time, he appealed. And he got the Florida Innocence Project involved. The court of appeals said he was entitled to a hearing. It turns out that there was something to test. And, oh, yeah. Bain is innocent. Wholly.

According to AP, Bain said.

"No, I'm not angry," he said. "Because I've got God."

That's OK. I've got enough anger for both of us. Not because he was convicted. That just makes me sad. Those 27 years Bain was in prison, doing life, because eyewitness identification is altogether unreliable but almost always believed, that's how it goes. It's awful and inexcusable, but in some sense understandable.

The last 8 years is something else. Bain spent those in prison because the courts and the prosecutors didn't give a damn. Why would they want actually to apply the law that was designed to check for miscarriages of justice. They know better. There are no miscarriages of justice. Kids don't lie or make mistakes and juries are never wrong (except when they acquit). Why double check? Why bother?

Because it matters. Because one request should be all it takes. Because, frankly, they ought to be checking on their own. Because even the lives of people in prison matter. Because the fantasy land of courts and prosecutors is a fantasy land. Because of James Bain.

Thanks to Sarah, at Preaching to the Choir, who wrote movingly about this.


  1. best to shoot him anyway, just to be safe.

  2. Right now in Texas, death row prisoner Hank Skinner, who has an execution date in February, is suing the D.A. because she refuses to allow DNA testing. If she is so sure he is guilty, why not? Probably she knows that he is innocent and doesn't want to admit her mistake or ruin her record. stupid!

  3. To most of the prosecutors, none of them are innocent. Even the ones who didn't do it.

    Danny Brown spent 19 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit before we got him out. The DNA exonerates him and identifies the actual killer (who's doing life for another, similar killing). Prosecutors honestly believe Danny's somehow still guilty - they just can't figure out how.

  4. The part about the Bain story that got me so mad was the prosecutors office spokesperson saying it was really important that Bain be released in time for Christmas. Where was that attitude when he filed his first motion in 2001?

    Gloria, I, too, have never understood objecting to DNA testing. If you're so dang sure he did it, you shouldn't have a problem.

    Jeff, in Danny's case, did the prosecutor at trial argue that the DNA sample left by the killer matched Danny by blood type or "microscopically"?

  5. That pissed me off, too.

    There was no DNA testing back in 1981 when the crime happened or 1982 when Danny was tried. It was an eyewitness ID case, plain and simple. Good news is that it wasn't charged capitally under Ohio's then brand new (post-Lockett) death penalty law. Nobody today can remember why it wasn't. Had it been, Danny might well have been killed before we got the testing.

    Witness still says he saw Danny, and the prosecutors still believe it.

  6. Mr. G., Thanks for doing a piece on Mr. Bain. I hope his story burns up the bandwidth in every single blog on the planet.

    But I hope that we don't just end up talking about it and letting it go until the next travesty comes to light. We need to spread word that we are angry as hell and won't stand for any more of this crap. Taxpayers have become so complacent it’s ridiculous. Why? Because where do you think the compensation package money comes from? But if you ask someone if they pay taxes and they say yes, try asking them if you could have (not borrow) a thousand dollars.

    I know for a fact that Mr. Bain is angry but his happiness to be free is greater at this moment. Today or ten years from now, he will go through a series of events ranging from anxiety attacks to rage at the slightest things. Every time he sees a vehicle with lights on top or hears a siren of any type he will flip out. The very moment he hears about a false arrest and/or wrongful conviction could trigger it. Sustained Trauma.

    I know because I went through it and still am to be honest. Of course there are some things that separate our cases, (I'm caucasian in Texas - he's black in Florida), (my year was 84 - he's 74), (both having faulty eyewitness ids), (mine non - DNA robbery case 10 yrs. - his DNA rape case life), (mine denied a pardon twice - his motions denied forever), (me three years - his 35), (mine no help from any project, group or individual - his from the Innocence Project).

    I show this to let the reader know that it happens to all races, in every state, and that each state has purposely placed roadblocks in the way of the simple act of double-checking. They also only want to focus on claims backed up by DNA, or those on DEATH ROW or currently in custody. Systematically ignoring untold amounts of claims of actual innocence.

    Read Mr. G's. piece again and get really pissed off to the point of doing something besides just reading about it. How frigin hard would it be to protest these roadblocks (only DNA or go away, procedural time limit constraints, etc...? I'm doing my part, what can you do for your fellow man/woman, better than that, what can WE do? In the mean time share those similar stories (NON-DNA & DNA) so they can be counted & included amongst the multitudes of false arrests & wrongful convictions. Thanks.