Category Archives: Life after exoneration

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“I’ll fight ‘til my knuckles bleed for others on death row”: The remarkable story of a man once sentenced to die

From: Salon.com by Sean Dunne and Jack Shuler

Wrongfully accused & sentenced to die, now Derrick Jamison is free — and fighting back

Derrick Jamison dresses keenly. Tonight he’s wearing black slacks and polished black loafers with a Cincinnati Reds jersey over a long-sleeve black t-shirt, a large silver cross dangling from a chain around his neck. A brand new flat-brimmed Reds ball cap presses down a large shock of hair that just peaks out from beneath. Derrick is black, six foot four, and almost always grinning. He stands out in most places, but he really stands out in this section of the baseball stadium of mostly white males.

“I’m looking forward to this! It’s been a long time,” Derrick says as we all sit down in the Great American Ballpark, just behind the Mets dugout. “There sure are a lot of Mets fans here. You think they travel with the team?” he says aloud, and then taps a guy in front of him on the shoulder who’s wearing a Tom Seaver jersey. “Are y’all following the Mets around the country?” he asks sincerely.

The Mets fan barks dismissively, “No. I live here,” and turns back around, quickly working into the conversation he’s having with another fan that he was at Game 7 of the 1986 World Series between the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox. While he was at that game in 1986, Derrick Jamison was on Ohio’s death row.

Since 1977, there have been 155 death row exonerations. Derrick is number 119. In all, he spent twenty years inside, seventeen of them on death row. He had six stays of execution, one of which came just 90 minutes before death. He had already had his last meal and made arrangements for his body.

And yet, here he is now at a Reds game on a cool September evening, on the same day that Pope Francis addressed Congress and called for the abolition of the death penalty. A month from now, on October 25, it will be the ten-year anniversary of his release from prison.

For Derrick though, celebrating that release is a mixed bag. He’s living proof of what’s at stake when we talk about the problems of the death penalty. Derrick was accused of the brutal murder of a Cincinnati bartender named Gary Mitchell,who was killed during a robbery in 1984. Two months later, Derrick was arrested for robbing a Gold Star Chili restaurant, and was wearing Pony shoes, as had been Mitchell’s killer. When a man named Charles Howell was arrested for being an accomplice to the murder, he claimed that Derrick was the killer. Howell got a reduced sentence for his testimony.

Derrick was sentenced to death on October 25, 1985, becoming one of 26 people sentenced to death in Hamilton County, Ohio, between 1981 and 1992. For context, this one county sentenced more people to death than 18 of the 38 states that enforced capital punishment during this time period.

But witness descriptions of the suspects didn’t match Jamison’s actual appearance. When one eyewitness to the robbery and murder was shown photos he identified two men—neither was Derrick Jamison. This evidence was suppressed by the police department. In 2000, Derrick was granted a new trial and a Federal judge said that the prosecutor working on the case, Mark Peipmeier, withheld evidence. The charges were dismissed in 2005.

According to the Innocence Project, over one-third of death row exonerees haven’t been adequately compensated. When Derrick was released, the prison gates were opened, and that’s about it. He received no restitution, no support. Despite enduring six stays of executions, eating what he was told was his last meal each time, and being 90 minutes away from his execution, Derrick received no compensation, because Ohio could claim he would have been incarcerated anyway for robbing the Gold Star Chili restaurant.

A few years later, Derrick was walking across the street from the justice center in Cincinnati and he passed Piepmier. He looked over and it was clear that he recognized him.

“He knew he was wrong, but I don’t hold in anger. How you gonna enjoy life like that? I saw those prison guards and their anger,” he pauses. “They killing people and then going home and kissing their kids goodnight.” Derrick says his faith got him through. And, perhaps, his kindness, his gentle demeanor. While in prison, he helped organize care packages for other inmates who did not have support from the outside. On the way into the ballpark, despite his limited resources, he stopped to talk to a homeless man and then gave him a dollar.

Derrick has a lot that he could be angry about. While on death row, his mother and father passed away—he blames their early deaths on the stress of his situation. “The death penalty not only kills inmates,” he says, “it kills families.” In some strange ways, though, he has a new family—that of death row exonerees, a group that forms a singular tribe of the once-incarcerated. They meditate daily not only on their newfound freedom, but on the fact that they were almost killed.

“Just to be clear, you know, I’m not just an exoneree, I’m an abolitionist. I got friends who are still inside.” After spending 20 years of his life in the system, Derrick spends his time trying to change it. He has spoken in every death penalty state and has travelled to other countries to fight against the U.S. death penalty. “I’ll fight ‘til my knuckles bleed for others on death row,” he says, “but I can’t go back to visit them. I can’t have that door close behind me again.”

Tonight provides Derrick with a temporary break in this fight. Tonight he’s most concerned with his Cincinnati Reds. It’s been a rough season. They’ve traded away starting pitchers Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake. And it shows. They’re at the bottom of the National League Central and the Mets are at the top of the East.

After the Reds got one back to tie the game in the sixth, one of the Mets tossed a ball to our section that was caught by the Mets fan wearing the Tom Seaver jersey. Derrick is delighted to be so close, and after the fan shows it off to one of his friends, he shoves the ball into the side pocket of his cargo shorts. Derrick asks him if he can see it. “No!” he yells back to Derrick, barely turning to look at him.

“There are some rude people in this world,” Derrick mutters under his breath.

Throughout the game, Derrick talks openly about his experience in prison among this crew of Mets fans. He tells a story of his basketball team, the one made of death row inmates who could beat the guards when the general population couldn’t.

At the end of the 7th inning, as the Mets jog off the field to their dugout, second basemen Danny Murphy tosses a ball several rows behind Derrick, there’s a mad scramble, and Derrick, along with Jack and Sean, the authors of this article, turn to their right to see who would catch it. Almost immediately after turning to follow the ball’s path, Sean sees that the ball has been knocked forward by fans competing to catch it and sticks his left hand out to catch it.

Derrick asks, “Where did the ball go?”

“Right here,” Sean says, handing the ball to Derrick. “Now you have your own.”

Derrick is ecstatic.

Soon after, a man who was sitting in our row a few seats down from us approaches Derrick after watching us take photos with the ball.

“Didn’t you talk at our church on Martin Luther King Day?”

“Yes, I did,” he replies.

“I recognized you. It’s good to see you. Congratulations!”

Derrick Jamison’s presence is testimony—an argument for abolishing the death penalty. Exonerees like Derrick give people a name and a face, a story to attach to the numbers and often vague pronouncements about capital punishment.

But since 2005, Derrick’s life has been rough at times. He struggles financially and psychologically, mostly with the personal trauma of being so close to death, and so often.

In the soft glow of the lights in the 8th inning, thumbing the caught ball in his hands, none of that matters. And it doesn’t matter that the Reds are losing. It’s just a game. There will be more chances, more games.

Sean Dunne is assistant professor of Sociology at Shawnee State University. He has published articles in The Irish Times, The Irish Independent, Z Magazine, and elsewhere.

Jack Shuler is author of three books including “The Thirteenth Turn: A History of the Noose” (PublicAffairs, 2014). His writing has appeared in Salon, The Atlantic, Los Angeles Times, Truthout, among others. He teaches at Denison University.

Click here to read the original publication.

 

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Sam Gross, editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, recently wrote an editorial for the Washington Post: The Staggering Number of Wrongful Convictions in American

In Hawaii, attorneys say they can prove that the investigation and prosecution resulting in Taryn Christian 1995 murder conviction were rife with fraud

Illinois exoneree Alprentiss Nash who was convicted of murder in 1995 and released in 2012 after DNA tests proved his innocence, was fatally shot Tuesday after an argument

New York’s highest court denies State’s appeal of 2014 court decision overturning the 1993 kidnapping convictions of Everton Wagstaffe and Reginald Connor…

New Conviction Integrity Unit formed in Orange County, New York…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

The Oklahoma Innocence Project continues to battle for Malcolm Scott’s freedom…

Robert W. Wood of Forbes Magazine discusses why “Taxing Wrongful Conviction Money Is Wrong“…

The National Law Review covers the root causes of wrongful conviction

In Chicago, DNA proves Daniel Andersen’s innocence in 1980 stabbing…

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals refuses to grant immunity to  former Pennsylvania prosecutors in civil suit filed by David Munchinski who spent 24 years wrongfully imprisoned…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

New Jersey exoneree awarded $12.5 million for 22 years of wrongful imprisonment…

Rhode Island judge overturns 1992 murder conviction based on DNA test results…

The 9th Circuit issues landmark DNA ruling

Ohio Exoneree Raymond Towler gears up to perform with the Exoneree Band in his home state…

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Police insider says a Chicago man’s false confession resulted from beatings inflicted by detectives…

A wrongfully convicted man who was released from prison last month after being locked up 27 years started work Tuesday at his new job as a paralegal

Alaska Newspaper calls for a change in shaken baby investigations…

In Wisconsin, a man convicted of murder seeks new trial on the basis that the murder was actually a suicide…

Georgia Supreme Court says DNA evidence suggesting a different perpetrator  not enough to get man convicted of sexual assault a new trial…

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks

A new study suggests that North Carolina’s reckless use of the death penalty threatens the innocent…

Exonerated death row inmate Glenn Ford died yesterday a year after being released from prison…

In Alaska, an inmate’s confession promises new trial for the Fairbanks Four…

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

A Profile in Courage – Ricky Jackson’s 39 Years in Prison

This past Wednesday, I was privileged to be present when Ricky Jackson addressed a group of people at the University of Cincinnati. In November, 2014, Ricky, along with two of his boyhood friends, the Bridgeman brothers, was exonerated of a murder he did not commit, and for which he spent 39 years in prison, including 2 1/2 years on death row.  See the previous WCB coverage of this here. I was so moved, that I felt compelled to write about my impressions.

Ricky spoke at some length about his experiences, his feelings about it all, and his perspectives and future plans.  I must say he is eloquent, articulate, intelligent, compassionate, humorous, and possessed of humility. He is the kind of person I would be honored to call a friend.

I won’t try to relate the details of his case or his experiences. For that, please check the link cited above, and the links within that article.  But know that I sat there in wonder as he spoke about all this without the slightest trace of anger, resentment, or bitterness. How a person can endure what he did, and come out of it with his attitude and perspective is just about incomprehensible to me.

I have to wonder also what this man might have accomplished during those 39 years had he not been in prison. Those 39 years were stolen not just from Ricky Jackson, but from us – all of us – because this is a man who clearly has the ability to have a positive influence on other people and on society as a whole. I’m sure Ricky has very definite knowledge of what this has cost him, but we’ll never know what this has cost us. And on top of that . . . the real murderers are still out there.

And of course, this begs the question – how many more Ricky Jackson’s are there still in prison in this country?

 

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

Exonerees Earn Law Degrees; Become Innocence Attorneys

Many exonerees, upon release from prison, undertake some form of innocence work. After all, being wrongfully convicted and incarcerated has to qualify as one of the most profoundly life-altering events a person can endure. So it’s not surprising that many dedicate the rest of their lives to trying to fix the broken system that wronged them so terribly.

There are even some who go on to earn a law degree, so they can confront the system in a personal and “head-on” way. Several of these “JD-carrying” exonerees were featured in the recent edition of the American Bar Association Journal.  See the article from the ABA Journal here.

 

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • State of Mississippi to make pay outs in more than a dozen wrongful conviction cases
  • Pennsylvania Innocence Project wins new trial for woman convicted 42 years ago on flawed arson science
  • Charges dropped against California Innocence Project client Michael Hanline, who is the longest serving wrongfully convicted Californian
  • Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson honored for courage by DOJ
  • Well-done video from British TV about Ohio Innocence Project’s recent new trial wins for Wheatt, Glover and Johnson based on flawed gun-shot residue evidence and Brady violations
  • New Yorker article on compensation for the wrongfully convicted
  • Exoneree Martin Tankleff mulls run for Congress

Debra Milke Speaks

Today, Debra Milke, exonerated after 22 years on Arizona’s death row for the murder of her 4 year old son, appeared and spoke at a press event.

See her very eloquent press conference statements here. And see the remarks from her attorney, Lori Voepel, here.

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…