Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Miscarriage of Justice

In the pivotal trial scene in the movie A Time to Kill (and the John Grisham novel of the same name) lawyer Jake Brigance, played by Matthew McConaughey, describes the tragic scene of the rape and assault of a little black girl and at the end of the retelling, asks the jury to imagine that the girl is white, evoking the not the racial prejudice of the southern town in which the story was set, but the passionate disgust that a rape of a child engenders. It was brilliant lawyering and brilliant storytelling with an effective end.

In 2006, the Duke Lacrosse Rape case became national news. A black woman working as a stripper, accuses several white, admittedly privileged, Duke lacrosse players of viciously raping her. Durham, NC is a largely black city with the bastion of white privilege of a private university set among the city. The story immediately made headlines and then the story began to unravel. The accuser's story had a lot of holes in it. A prosecuting attorney, with political ambitions, seizes on the case, makes a series of serious and egregious errors that ultimately results in his downfall and ultimate disbarrment as an attorney. Serious and severe failings of police procedures, prosecutorial misconduct and a dangerous mix of ill-informed Duke faculty, with a predetermined, politically correct conviction of young men who hadn't even seen a courtroom yet, and a media willing to latch on to a story that fit a narrative mold of white privilege abusing black, working class women was too much for the nation to ignore. Ultimately, the young men are exonerated of their alleged crime, but their lives are forever shattered, altered forever in the world of the internet where good deeds go unnoticed, but misdeeds, real or imagined linger forever.

Now imagine everything you know about the Duke rape case is exactly reversed and you will have an idea of the case of Eric Frimpong.

Eric Frimpong is now entering the third year of a six year sentence for a rape that appears to have never happened. Frimpong, a black soccer player from Ghana, who was a player for University of California Santa Barbara and their 2006 NCAA title winning team, was accused by a white woman, apparently with power connections through her father, but with an admitted alcohol problem and a history of blackouts. The accused was an immigrant from Ghana, unfamiliar with the legal system and no previous interactions with the law and with a story that was wildly inconsistent with the accuser's story.

There are similarities between the Duke case and the Frimpong case, not just an accuser lacking in credibility. DNA evidence of rape was practically non-existent. What DNA was found on the accuser didn't belong to Frimpong, but another man who was never seriously questioned as a suspect. Bite marks on the victim were examined by one forensic expert who said his results were inconclusive, so the police went to a different expert who said that it was Frimpong. The problem is, for those unfamiliar with the case of Brady v. Maryland, is that any evidence that may be exculpatory of the defendant must be turned over to the defense. The first expert was identified until later.

I strongly urge everyone to read the lengthy article by Joel Engel, who along with his uncle, spent thousands of volunteer hours reviewing case files and tracking down unfollowed leads, witnesses and evidence, talked to experts of all kinds and found dozens of gaping and not so gaping holes in the case. Engel's investigation was used by Frimpong's attorneys, including pro bono work by Skadden Arps (one of the biggest law firms in the world), to argue the appeal.

An appellate ruling should be handed down in the next couple of weeks.

If, after reading all this information and Engel's story, you want to help defray the costs of Frimpong's defense, click here.

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