Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Journey Toward Justice

I had an interesting meeting last week with Dennis Fritz, author of the new book, "Journey Toward Justice." Dennis is one of more than 100 prisoners released in the past few years, most of them with the help of Barry Scheck's Innocence Project, because DNA evidence proved them not guilty.

Dennis served 12 years in the Oklahoma state pen for a murder he didn't commit. The cops looked at him briefly in connection with a 1982 murder, then pretty much left him alone for five years. When nothing else panned out, they came after him and an acquaintance and got them convicted. Dennis says he never lost faith that he would be exonerated eventually, but it was a long time coming. John Grisham also has a book out focusing on Dennis's co-defendant Ron Williamson, and has written a cover blurb for "Journey Toward Justice." I think Dennis's book is more interesting, and it certainly covers the legal issues more thoroughly.

As I wrote in a blurb for the book, this case should make it clear that people serving on juries should take the instructions that you shouldn't vote for a conviction unless there is no "reasonable doubt" very seriously, even if other jurors pressure them. I found out something about Dennis's case that he didn't know until just a few weeks ago.

A single juror doubted his guilt and was holding out until other jurors told her that if she voted to convict they would vote against the death penalty. Then when the penalty phase came up, the other jurors were all for the death penalty. But this time, having been double-crossed, she did hold out, and Dennis was sentenced to life. If that one juror hadn't let her conscience guide her, he might very well have been executed before DNA evidence proved him innocent. Think about that if you ever serve on a jury. You have an absolute right to let your conscience be your guide, and there's nothing they can do to you if you hold out or hang the jury.


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