Monday, February 2, 2009

Weighing public safety against victim's rights

There's an intriguing article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution today about the consequences of a DNA exoneration in the case of a 1985 rape in Georgia. In January of 2007, DNA evidence freed Willie Williams after he had served 22 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, but when the state entered his DNA profile into the database of profiles, it matched serial rapist Kenneth Wicker.

Wicker was arrested that same month, but was released in September after prosecutors quietly dropped the case against him. Today, that serial rapist is free, though we know he is implicated in at least one other rape.

The DNA proves there is “no question” that Wicker, now 49, committed the crime, [District Attorney Paul] Howard said.

“It’s clear he’s a serial rapist,” he said in a recent interview. “He should not be where he can harm anyone.”


Obviously.

But the problem that the prosecution has is that the victim in that 1985 rape is adamant that Williams, the man exonerated by the DNA testing, was actually her rapist and not Wicker, the man to whom the DNA points. As Howard unconvincingly explains:

Her family knows nothing of the attack, he said, and subjecting her to relive the ordeal in court would be “obscene.”

“How long can you continue to traumatize this woman?” Howard asked. “We weighed all the circumstances and the most prudent thing would be to just let it go.”


But the DA has skipped over a middle ground in his thinking. It's one thing to decide not to force the victim to testify. (And, even if she did, she would be giving testimony that would hurt the state's case.) But, the reason that the state moved straight from that stage to dropping the charges is because they felt they could not obtain a conviction without the eyewitness testimony. This seems to me manifestly wrong. DNA testing is one of the most probative technologies that science has accorded the criminal justice system. It is so powerful that it is right when peoples' memories are wrong. Juries know this, and it seems to me that a jury would convict this serial rapist when confronted with solid evidence that he had raped again.

The state's decision leaves many questions up in the air.

But Wicker’s previous convictions for rape, aggravated sodomy, kidnapping, robbery and aggravated assault raise questions about the decision to release him. Is justice best served by protecting a victim? Or by prosecuting a repeat offender and getting him off the street?


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1 comment:

OliveRose said...

This is not what DNA evidence should be about, if they know who actually committed the rape, but are saying well it's been a long time and the victim would have to be exposed again, that is the biggest bunch of yahoo I have heard lately. So we let a rapist walk, because they sent the wrong man to prison? What makes sense in this article?