Dec 19, 2009

Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied

James Bain, 54, was just 19 years old in 1974, and without a criminal record, when he was convicted of kidnapping and raping a 9-year-old Lake Wales boy, largely on the jury's faith in the boy's identification.

But a recent DNA test called Bain's conviction into question. On Thursday, after much anticipation, Bain was expected to walk out of the Bartow courthouse, on a conditional release, until prosecutors could finish their investigation.

Instead, Bain got something even better.

Mere minutes before the 9 a.m. hearing, prosecutors received a call from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that verified the Innocence Project of Florida's DNA test results: The semen on the victim's underwear did not belong to Bain.

Instead of asking for a conditional release for Bain, State Attorney Jerry Hill moved Thursday to vacate Bain's sentence and to drop the charges against him.

About 9:45 a.m., Bain and his family finally heard the words they'd waited 35 years to hear:

"You are a free man," Circuit Judge James Yancey said. "Congratulations."

Bain had served more time behind bars than any of the 245 other prisoners exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing in the United States, including 10 others in Florida.

Since May 2001, he had asked the courts four times to test the DNA. With help from the Innocence Project, he filed his fifth and final request in July. Yancey granted the motion in October, without objection from the State Attorney's Office, and allowed the test.

The results were released last week, when prosecutors began working to verify the results and to rule out other possibilities.

The FDLE also concluded that the sperm found on the underwear did not belong to the victim, said spokesman Chip Thullbery. They'll run the DNA code in a statewide database and look for a match.

After the hearing, IPF lawyer Melissa Montle held Bain's hand as he walked down the courthouse steps and embraced his sisters inside a swarm of news reporters and cameras.

At the microphone stand, Bain remained calm and smiling.

He plans to spend time with family, to go back to school for reading and writing, and to watch "Titanic," a film he says helped him survive prison life. He wants to travel. Out of his seven siblings, he is the only child who has yet to visit Nassau, his father's home city in the Bahamas. He used a cell phone for the first time to call his mother, who waited at home for him in Tampa.

Once inside the public defender's office, Bain ate his first snack outside of prison: a glazed donut and a bottle of Mountain Dew. His belongings - notebooks, newspaper clippings and other saved artifacts - fit into a netted laundry sack. He remained calm and patient, as his family waited eagerly to take him home. Bains said,

I can't be angry. People had a job to do back then. It's just sad the way the outcome was.
According to Florida law, Bain is entitled to $50,000 for every year he was wrongfully incarcerated. That would amount to $1.75 million, but Thursday afternoon, Bain said money is not his priority.

Until the Innocence Project became involved, he said he felt "neglected" in the slow and complicated judicial process. He's seen a lot of innocent people during his time in prison, and says DNA testing should be made more accessible.

Had Bain's case been investigated today, the State Attorney's office says the trial might have gone differently. Many investigators are now trained to interview children, and DNA testing has replaced serology as the choice science.

Public Defender J. Marion Moorman said Thursday the DNA in Bain's case should have been tested earlier, but added that the larger problem is the number of cases, including Bain's, built on witness testimony. Moorman said,
We hear all the time from our clients that they are innocent. We get jaded and cynical, particularly those of us who've done this for a long time. This just, once again, teaches us the value of listening to our clients, of going the extra mile and giving them our 100 percent.


Leslie Parsley said...

I just finished reading about a similar case in the book, "Chasing Justice," by Kerry Max Cook. The horror this man weant through in the Texas "judicial" system is heartbreaking and outrageous.

After a little over 20 years he was set free - after 4 trials. The cops, the DA the labs - everyone conspired against him. An outfit called Centurian Ministries, which pleads cases where the victim is innocent, worked tirelessly for years to get him free.

Vigilante said...

Thanks for your comment, Leslie.

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

Now you're not gonna believe this Vig, but I found this post by googling the Innocence Project. Gee. Bless you for the post. :-)

Vigilante said...

As MacDaddy would have said, Ms Barry, Blessings....