Fortunately, that statement did not come from any of my doctors. If it did, I would be dead right now.
Unfortunately, that statement comes from somebody who has a similar amount of control over the lives of others: A prosecutor.
Wayne County Prosecutor Marilyn Eisenbraun made that statement in court documents defending the incarceration of Karl Vinson, a man who has spent 25 years in prison for…well, not really much of anything, it turns out. Darrell Dawsey from MLive:
As the story details, Vinson was convicted in 1986 for raping a 9-year-old girl, although he and his parents said he was at home at the time the crime occurred. Despite their testimony, a technician at the Detroit Crime Lab claimed that, because because his blood antigens don't show up in bodily fluid, Vinson couldn't be ruled out as a suspect. He was sentenced to 10 to 50 years.
When DNA testing emerged, Vinson pushed in 1991 to have the child's sheets analyzed for semen stains. Fifteen years later, he found out the sheets were destroyed.
But a test in 2009 proved that, contrary to earlier beliefs, Vinson's blood antigens do indeed show up in bodily fluids. Given that, the sheets would've contained clear evidence of his presence had he raped the child.
They didn't, and it's highly likely he didn't. And so the Innocence Clinic is challenging the prosecutor's office...yet again. Two years ago, Sandra Svoboda at the Metro Times blew the lid off of the tragic case of Dwayne Provience, a Detroit man the Clinic had proven was wrongly serving 32 to 62 years in prison for murder. Provience was eventually freed. Before that, the Clinic helped exonerate two Detroit men wrongly convicted in 2001 of a shooting.
In each of those cases prosecutors were reluctant to consider new trials or tossing out the convictions.
More details from the Free Press:
"The scientific evidence conclusively proves that this man is innocent," clinic codirector David Moran said of Vinson, a former Detroiter who has spent 25 years in prison.
Moran said Vinson, 56, is the victim of a flawed forensic test and that more recent tests rule him out as a suspect.
But the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office opposes the request because the girl identified Vinson as her attacker.
"Science does not trump the testimony of individuals," Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Marilyn Eisenbraun said in court documents. She wouldn't discuss the case.
Police said an intruder raped the girl in the early hours of Jan. 3, 1986, after climbing through her bedroom window. When he left, the girl woke up her mother, who called police.
The girl, who required surgery, initially was unable to tell her mother who raped her, records show. But when her mother suggested Vinson, the girl said he did it.
I don’t mean to hate on all prosecutors. I know some; they’re generally good people. And I understand that they are inundated with appeals and efforts to overturn convictions. It’s a tough job with a heavy workload, especially in Wayne County. I don’t expect prosecutors to roll over every time some group comes to them with evidence that somebody might be wrongly imprisoned. I get that.
My big issue is with the last sentence in the first excerpt above: Prosecutors are often reluctant to even consider that somebody might have been falsely convicted. And that’s wrong. You can assemble all the exculpatory evidence in the world and come to prosecutors with a gift-wrapped case of innocence, and you’ll get the legal equivalent of the middle finger. This would be fine if the goal of being a prosecutor was to imprison as many people as humanly possible. It is not fine since the goal of a prosecutor should be to obtain some modicum of justice.
And that leads to absurd statements like, “Science does not trump the testimony of individuals.” Sure, that statement was probably cherry picked from a pleading. But the fact that an educated and trained lawyer who quite literally can mess with lives at will wrote those words should send chills down your spine. There are six million reasons why science should trump the testimony of individuals, but that statement is so inherently absurd I don’t even think I need to list them.
This…should probably bother you. No matter what side of the aisle you’re on. When an innocent man goes to prison, the guilty party remains free. When an innocent man goes to prison, your tax dollars are used to support him. And when a prosecutor writes, “Science does not trump the testimony of individuals,” she does so on behalf of the people.
Just something to think about next time you see a candidate for office talk about how he is “tough on crime.”