On February 4, 1984, Thomas Haynesworth was 18 years old, had no criminal history at all, and his entire life in front of him. With the usual caveats of a good work ethic and a bit of luck, he was free to pursue the American dream.
The following day all that changed when he was arrested on suspicion of attacking not one but five women.
Even an 18 year old who attacks and rapes that many women can expect to spend the rest of his life behind bars, at the very least, he won't be back on the streets again until his sexual urges are significantly diminished by middle if not old age.
Thomas Haynesworth was convicted of three of these attacks. There is no doubt that they all happened. The full, sordid details can be found here
along with details of the other crimes committed by the same individual, who has now been brought to book.
Although DNA profiling was already being researched, it did not exist at this time as a tool for criminal investigations, but state prosecutors had extremely powerful evidence. When a frightened little woman
takes the stand, looks the jury in the eye and says: I was raped, and that man there did it, who is going to challenge her, especially when the forensics and all the other evidence say she is not lying?
If a woman is crying rape, or if she is delusional, that is a different matter, but when it is clear she has been violated, and points her finger at the man she believes in all sincerity to be the perpetrator, how can any jury not convict?
As long ago as 1908, the Harvard academic Hugo Münsterberg demonstrated in On The Witness Stand...
that this is not necessarily the case, that the testimony of not only eyewitnesses but victims can be both compelling, utterly sincere, and mistaken. Since the 1970s, the work of especially Elizabeth Loftus has built on these early insights into human psychology and perception.
The problem is that America's prisons indeed prisons everywhere, are full of men and less frequently women, who have been convicted of heinous crimes on overwhelming evidence, yet who insist on protesting their innocence.
And, for some bizarre reason, the cases that attract the most publicity are if not invariably, then most often, the most transparently guilty, like Linda Carty
Their supporters and campaigners, often seemingly respectable, generate bundles of publicity, including soliciting donations from well-meaning but gullible members of the public, and churn out ludicrous lies which the media laps up without bothering to do even the simplest fact checking.
It has to be said too that some prisoners are marketable while others are not. Linda Carty has been marketed to especially the British public as a cuddly grandmother, butter wouldn't melt in her mouth type who was failed by a useless lawyer after being framed by wicked drug dealers.
was marketed as a poor, illiterate Pakistani woman who was passed around Bradford's Moslems as an unpaid whore, although she was apparently literate enough to read the word arsenic.
Another one of those supposedly not merely innocent but like Carty, framed, is Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is this week celebrating
thirty years behind bars. He is one of the most important intellectuals of our time, according to
one of his braindead supporters, a woman who holds a PhD in history. This is a man who was found at the scene of the crime with the murder weapon at his feet and a fistful of eyewitnesses against him, but because he is an eloquent speaker and opposed to the wicked capitalist system, he must
have been framed.
On the other hand, who was Thomas Haynesworth? Just another black kid who might well have got involved in gangs or even dealing in drugs, maybe none too articulate, people like him are a dime a dozen, let's find a more charismatic prisoner to lobby for, anyway, rape is a turn off with our supporters.
Fortunately for him, the Innocence Project
didn't see it like that, and finally, on March 21 this year, a man walked out of the Greensville Correctional Center
on his 46th birthday, where a boy had walked into the criminal justice system, having lost all his 20s and 30s, the best years of his life.
Now, more than eight months later, the Virginia Court of Appeals has not simply quashed his convictions or exonerated him, it has issued a writ of actual innocence, a declaration that he never committed these crimes for which he lost his youth.
Hopefully he will now be in line for some mega-compensation as well as the help he will need to adjust to life outside of prison walls, although no amount of money can compensate for all those wasted years.
Alas, Haynesworth is far from the first and probably won't be the last person to be freed from prison and declared totally innocent. Recently there was James Bain
, and more recently, Dewey Bozella
. And that's only in America.