When the innocent go to prison, how many guilty go free?

Jennifer Thompson has told her harrowing tale many times. In 1984, a man broke into her apartment and sexually assaulted her at knifepoint. She picked Ronald Cotton out of a police lineup, and he was sent to prison. But a decade later he was proven innocent and released. The two met and eventually co-authored a book, “Picking Cotton.” They toured the country, advocating for laws that might prevent such tragedies. The real perpetrator, Bobby Poole, was identified through DNA, and died in prison in 1998.

Jennifer Thompson has spoken about how wrongful convictions contribute to crime by allowing the guilty to go free.

But here’s the lesser-known epilogue: After the book was released, Thompson was contacted by a woman named LuAnn Mullis. Mullis had also been sexually assaulted by Bobby Poole, months after Cotton was wrongfully arrested. In fact, Poole had been accused of more than 20 crimes after the police arrested the wrong man. “If they had done it right then, what happened to me would not have occurred,” Mullis told Thompson.

Thompson spoke in her public appearances about how wrongful convictions contribute to crime by allowing the guilty to go free. But there were no numbers.

It just so happened that Thompson married a political scientist named Frank Baumgartner, who for years has studied data on wrongful convictions. Together, they began discussing how to show the public that preventing wrongful convictions is not just a way of stopping individual injustices: it’s a way of fighting crime continue reading here

 

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