Not the first time: why criminal suspects need proven defense help

Fundamentally erroneous assumption: that every individual locked away in a state or federal prison in the United States is guilty of the crime they were charged with.

Sadly, we know that is not the case and that, indeed, innocent people in Tennessee and across the country languish -- sometimes for decades or even a lifetime -- behind bars after being wrongfully convicted for criminal activity that, quite simply, they never engaged in.

And, with an equal mixture of joy and yet more sadness, we are recurrently reminded of that reality every time the truth comes to light regarding a corrupted conviction and the renewed chance for a person who has grievously suffered from third-party wrongdoing surfaces.

That outcome recently played out in a Maine courtroom, where last month a judge and packed audience heard a so-called "stunning admission" from a woman who, 27 years ago at the age of 13, falsely pointed a finger at a fellow teenager.

The testimony she provided at his trial in 1992 resulted in his conviction on a charge of murdering his girlfriend. He was sent to prison on a 70-year sentence.

And he has been there for the past 27 years, knowing he was innocent.

Many others, too, now know the same thing, with the witness recanting her testimony last month and announcing in court that her statements were coerced by authorities. She stated that she faced charges of her own as a juvenile and that police officials told her they would make things hard for her if she didn't tell a judge and jury what they wanted her to say.

Obviously, she could no longer remain silent regarding the truth.

Following her new declaration, the judge overseeing the matter set bail and released the man, pending further proceedings that will determine whether a new trial will be conducted.

The judge's sentiments on that point seem clear enough and point to the man's conviction being imminently set aside.

"Quite frankly," noted the judge, "I wouldn't want to go forward on a case based on her testimony."

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