Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An innocent man was released from a NY prison after 25 years

This is a terrible story of injustice in America.

A man was in Florida, in 1989, when his friend was killed in Brooklyn (one of New York City's 'boroughs' or 'areas').

However, he was arrested by the police and charged with (accused of) the murder. He was put on trial (to be put on trial means to go into a courtroom before a judge or jury to determine whether a person is guilty or not guilty) and he was found guilty.  (I do not know whether a judge or a jury found him guilty. A jury is made up of 12 regular citizens.)  After 25 years, he is being released. He was falsely thrown in jail when he was 27 and he is now 51.

I guess the 'hero' of the story is Ken Thompson.  He is the new head of the District Attorney's Office of Brooklyn. So he is in charge of all the lawyers who 'prosecute' people who have been accused of crimes. To prosecute someone is to take the person to trial to try to find the person guilty.  A 'prosecutor' or DA (District Attorney) argues that a person is guilty while the 'defense attorney' argues that his client is innocent.

Ken Thompson has learned that many innocent people were thrown in jail in Brooklyn in the past, and he is trying to get all of these innocent people released.

So what's the lesson?  The American criminal justice system often does not work properly. Innocent people go to jail.  Part two of the lesson is that it is possible, however, given good people, to change the injustices of the past and to try to make sure such horrible things never happen again.  How many people involved in the criminal justice system in the USA are currently good people?  Who knows.

The article about this shocking situation:

Vocabulary to help you understand this article:

convicted - to be convicted means to be found 'guilty' of a crime.  Wrongfully convicted means the person should not have been found guilty.  If a person is found innocent, he has been 'exonerated.'

a quarter century - 1/4 century (25 years)

By the way, in newspapers they often drop words if the title is too long.  The full title of this piece should be: A wrongfully convicted man who had spent 24 years in prison for a Brooklyn murder, committed while he was in Disney World, has been set free. 

homicide - murder. Anything with 'cide' in it means 'killing.'  Suicide - killing yourself Infanticide - killing a baby  

evidence - this is different from proof.  Proof shows without a doubt that something happened.  Evidence 'hints' or indicates that something happened.

a hearing - a formal procedure where people argue for or against something

not disclosed - not revealed, not shown

confirmed his alibi - if you have an alibi for a crime, this means you can show you were someplace else when the crime happened.  To confirm something means to prove something.  So the prosecutor in 1989 knew that this man was not even in Brooklyn, but he did not give the evidence to the man's lawyers.

slaying - murder

unearthed - found after a long time

non-disclosures - evidence that wasn't shown to his lawyer. The man's current lawyer stated this was no accident.  The DA at that time deliberately (not accidentally) refused to show proof that this man was innocent.  Why?  DAs are promoted based on the number of people they convict.

recanting witness - during his trial in 1989 someone said she had seen him kill the man.  She has now 'recanted' her story. She has 'taken her story back.'  She is now saying that she lied during the trial.  She had been arrested by the police for a serious crime and the police told her they would let her go free if she lied in court about this man.

felony charges - very serious accusations.  A felony is a major crimes. A misdemeanor is a minor crime.

erupted in applause - to applaud means to clap your hands.  They suddenly and enthusiastically began applauding.

a burden - something heavy you have to carry

a trove - a huge number; Thompson, now the new DA, is looking through a huge number of cases where people are probably in jail for things they didn't do.

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