Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Innocence Wins Another One

Congratulations to Barry Scheck, Vanessa Potkin, and the staff of The Innocence Project for getting Lonnie Erby out of prison after serving 17 years for rapes he didn't commit. They used DNA evidence to prove his innocence, despite ongoing opposition to that science by St. Louis District Attorney Jennifer Joyce. Her office stubbornly resisted and dragged their feet in this matter, as they did with Larry Johnson, who the Project got released last summer. Shame on her.

Vanessa told me today that she got a call this morning from the UAW, which is going to try to get Lonnie his old job back at the Chrysler plant. This is the toughest part of his new freedom -- at 49 years old, he has no job, no money, no clothing. And the state gives him nothing except an apology.

Don't we as a society owe something to men and women we've imprisoned wrongly? This guy had a third of his life taken away. Think of losing your freedom for that long. Add to it the trauma of prison life and everything that goes along with it. How much would you be owed?

You can't give him back that time, you can't give him another chance to see his son grow up, but certainly we should make an effort to get him on his feet again. Train him to understand the technologies that have cropped up while he was locked up, so that he can re-enter the workforce if he must.

Vanessa said that some states, like California, give freed innocents like Erby a check that amounts to $50,000 for each year they were wrongly imprisoned. That's a start, but I don't know if it's enough.

We provide a societal safety net for businesses, we do it for families with sick kids, we do it for all sorts of people in need. The sad thing is that more people cared about Quentin, The Dog That Cheated Death, than will about Lonnie Erby.

And let's not forget the rape victims, all of whom thought they had closure because the thug who'd attacked them had been sent away. But since the thug wasn't Lonnie, that means the real rapist was never punished for those crimes and may still be walking around somewhere.

In the meantime, Lonnie is back with his family, trying to reconnect to a life and a world he hasn't known since his son was 10 years old. We should all wish him luck -- and hope the Innocence Project (which, as of today, has exonerated 136 wrongfully convicted people) runs out of clients very soon.