BY Fatiatu Inusah, 4:08pm April 03, 2019,

Being black in the U.S. makes you guilty enough of a crime you did not commit

Nathan Myers, left, embraces his uncle, Clifford Williams, during a news conference after their 1976 murder convictions were overturned Thursday, March 28, 2019 in Jacksonville, Fla. The order to vacate the convictions originated from the first ever conviction integrity review unit set up by State Attorney Melissa Nelson. (Will Dickey/The Florida Times-Union via AP)

The wheels of justice may turn slowly for some, but for most blacks in the U.S, it may never turn at all as they are likely to spend more time or all of their time in jail (if it is never discovered) for wrongful convictions as against their white counterparts. 

A 2016 report titled Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States reveals that African Americans convicted of murder are 50% more likely to be innocent of those charges and spend more time in prison before their exoneration than other convicted murderers.

According to the US National Registry of Exonerations, black people are seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder, 3.5 times more likely to be undeservedly convicted of sexual assault and 12 times more likely to be convicted for drug crimes albeit innocent.

Samuel Gross, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School said these wrongful convictions could be attributed to unconscious bias, institutional discrimination and explicit racism.

The statistics show that black people in the US are clearly disadvantaged in the justice system. This has resulted in many of them spending their productive lives behind bars for crimes they have not committed. In the American justice system, being black makes a person guilty enough of a crime.

The obvious disparity in the justice system is evident as many black people have been incarcerated for crimes they never committed. A case in point is that of David Bryant who was convicted for rape and murder of 8-year-old Karen Smith in March 1975. Following a false confession by Bryant which he said was beaten out of him by officers, he was arraigned for hearing and was convicted by a jury on August 2, 1976. Before his sentencing, the rape charge was dropped and he was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder on October 25, 1976.

His case was reopened in 2002 after he had spent 26 years in jail. His trial transcript and a serologist report were found and re-examined. Bryant filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on February 18, 2016, in US southern district of New York along with his serology reports, his retraction and testimony by a psychologist who said that Bryant was highly susceptible to give a false confession and that police investigations increased the risk of that happening. After many trials in-between years, he was finally released on March 4, 2019. He was 18 years when he got incarcerated. He has lived all his youth in prison.

Similarly, a more recent case is that of 76-year-old William Clifford and 61-year-old Hubert Nathan Myers, uncle and nephew respectively who also spent 42 years in jail for the murder of Jeannette Williams.

The two were exonerated from a murder charge that earned them a death row in 1976. They spent 42 years in jail for shooting two women, Jeanette William and Nina Marshal, in their apartment. Even though they pleaded not guilty, Nina Marshal, the woman who survived the shooting identified them as the shooters and they were convicted of murder and attempted murder.

After spending 42 years in jail, their case was reopened and a new line of evidence was introduced. During the previous trial, the survivor identified Nathan and William as the murderers. At the time of the shooting, Nathan and William were at a party in Jacksonville in Florida near the apartment of the victims. Those at the party corroborated this information. However, that was not enough to buy their freedom. They were incarcerated despite their alibi.

A new investigation of their case commenced after Myers wrote to the State Attorney’s Office’s Conviction Integrity Unit in 2017. The unit in liaison with Innocence Project revisited the case and found new sets of evidence which were presented in court to discharge the innocently convicted men. The new evidence suggests that the shots came from the window and not from where the survivor claimed earlier, which was the foot of the bed. Also, it was indicated that the shots came from one person.

Although Nina Marshal is dead and so could not be questioned, the evidence found was enough to exonerate them. The judge declared them free on Thursday March 28, 2019.

The investigation also revealed that a man named Lawson confessed to the crime in 1976 but Williams and Myers were never released despite Lawson’s confession. Was Lawson’s confession not enough to have them released? Perhaps being black is all you need to be guilty of a crime.

Last Edited by:Victor Ativie Updated: May 6, 2020


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