As David S. Bernstein reports, Boston just paid a $3.8 million settlement to Anthony Powell, who spent 12 years in prison for a 1991 rape and kidnapping until he proved, through DNA testing, that he was innocent. This only happened because Suffolk County's district attorney at the time, Ralph Martin — to his credit, and demonstrating one of his rare enlightened moments — agreed to turn over the DNA evidence for testing. Similarly, current DA Daniel Conley agreed to the testing that exonerated Stephan Cowans in 2004.
But without a state law, Powell and Cowans had to rely on the largesse of the district attorney — and many prosecutors have typically refused such requests, or fought against them for years. A potentially innocent person's hopes for justice should not lie solely in the hands or at the whim of individual DAs, who are most often biased toward preserving convictions, not reconsidering them.
Bills to change the status quo have been filed by State Senator Cynthia Creem and State Representative Eugene O'Flaherty, the co-chairs of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. Similar bills have been filed in previous years and gone nowhere. Let's not wait until we are the very last state denying the right to prove one's innocence.
: The Editorial Page
, Deval Patrick, Deval Patrick, U.S. Government, More