By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  January 28, 2010

Most of them seem to have left behind much of their bitterness about Cowans’s wrongful conviction. They are much bitterer about his treatment after his exoneration — when, they say, city and state officials turned their back on the man they had destroyed.

It will probably not be possible to know all that happened, or why, until the identity of the real shooter is known. If there were officers trying to protect that person, then his identity might shed light on their motivation for doing so. In any case, it seems that an important element of the case — who really shot Gregory Gallagher — has not been pursued with vigor.

Identifying the real shooter should not be difficult. Police have what they believe to be the shooter’s DNA, taken from the “CK” cap, a sweatshirt left at the Lacys’ home, and water taken from the mug. Police never tested it, but Cowans’s attorney and the Innocence Project did — the finding that all three samples match each other, but not Cowans, is what led to his exoneration.

The fingerprints from the mug, if they are not, in fact, those of Bonnie Lacy and her son, Bryant McEwen, can also be checked against criminal databases. Witnesses, including the Lacys, might be willing to talk after all this time has passed.

There are a number of reasons why authorities need to learn the truth about what happened to Stephan Cowans — though even if he were still alive, no one could restore those years he spent in prison. There is still the un-prosecuted shooting of a police officer. Those on the force who may be guilty of misconduct, or worse, remain unpunished.

But the Cowans case has implications that go beyond individuals. Boston is mired in a rash of shootings, while police are stymied by a frustrating and counterproductive lack of community cooperation. Yet department and city officials don’t seem to appreciate the low regard in which they are held by some people in those victimized neighborhoods — and the role that police themselves have, at times, played in undermining the trustworthiness of the force.

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