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Commentary: Giving innocence a chance

Rocky Mount Telegram
The only thing worse than a loose criminal suspect is an imprisoned innocent person. When someone is wrongfully convicted and put behind bars, it can steal years from that person’s life ó even while the real offender may still be free.
DNA evidence has gone a long way toward righting such injustices. Seven wrongly convicted prisoners in North Carolina have been set free by such evidence, the latest being Joseph Abbitt, whose conviction of rape charges was overturned recently in Forsyth County.
Abbitt had served 14 years on charges that he raped two teenage sisters. The N.C. Center for Actual Innocence, a nonprofit group that helps inmates who say they have been wrongly convicted, aided Abbitt’s cause. A court ruled recently that DNA evidence proved Abbitt could not have been the assailant.
Wrongful convictions can happen under the most innocent of circumstances. Witnesses may genuinely believe they have identified the right suspects. Circumstantial evidence may sway juries to reasonable conclusions ó even if those conclusions later are proved to be mistaken.
North Carolina is moving slowly toward making sure criminal acts aren’t compounded by wrongful imprisonments.
The N.C. Center for Actual Innocence has rejected more than half of the requests it has received for additional investigation ó largely because reviews in many cases aren’t warranted. In the circumstances of Abbitt, however, the center’s involvement led to the release of an innocent man.
That’s the kind of justice that should prevail in every state. Thank goodness North Carolina takes such matters seriously.


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