As Franz Kafka wrote in “The Trial”:
“It’s only because of their stupidity that they’re able to be so sure of themselves.”
While Vancouver’s wrongly convicted Ivan Henry spent weeks in court this year seeking compensation due to a disturbingly flawed police investigation; a prosecutor whose focus was on winning, not achieving justice; and an arrogant jurist, more innocent men around North America were set free from prison after decades of wrongful imprisonment. The numbers are staggering, but their stories are similar. Here are two tragic examples.
Native American Marvin Roberts of Anchorage, Alaska was 19 years old in 1997 when after eleven hours of police interrogation he admitted killing 15-year old John Hartman who died after being beaten, kicked, and sexually assaulted on a lonely Anchorage street. Three other companions were also arrested, charged, and all were convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences. They were nicknamed the “Fairbanks Four”. Mr. Roberts received a 33-year sentence.
Alaska’s Innocent Project was eventually able to prove they were wrongfully convicted resulting in their release from prison on December 18, 2015. But in exchange for their freedom, the prosecutor’s office extracted an unconscionable concession from each of them, namely, that none of them could bring claims for compensation for the decades they spent in jail. Factors leading to their convictions included mistaken witness identification; later recanted, false forensic evidence; perjury; false accusations; and the misconduct of officials.
Floyd Bledsoe, age 23, of Oskaloosa, Kansas also lived the nightmare of a wrongful conviction for the murder, rape, and kidnapping of 14-year old Zetta Camille Arfmann, his wife’s younger sister, who lived with Floyd, his wife, Heidi and their two children.
After a neighbourhood search for Zetta, Floyd’s brother, Tom Bledsoe, discovered her body and produced the murder weapon. He then called his pastor and admitted to the crime, begging for forgiveness. He also admitted his guilt to the local police, before recanting and accusing his brother Floyd of the horrendous crime, explaining that his initial confession was in response to Floyd’s threats that he would release embarrassing information about Tom to his family and friends.
Floyd and Tom’s father, Floyd Bledsoe Sr., provided an airtight alibi for Tom, as did witnesses for Floyd. Astoundingly, Floyd was convicted of all charges and given a life sentence plus 16 years, despite a complete lack of forensic evidence against him. The prosecutor proffered evidence at trial that the rape kit did not produce any DNA results.
Floyd’s multiple appeals were unsuccessful until one appellate court ruled that mistakes made at trial by the prosecution, that went unchallenged by Floyd’s lawyer, were grounds for vacating the conviction. He was released from prison, but after the prosecutor’s successful appeal, he was returned to complete his prison sentence.
To the rescue was Kansas University’s School of Law Innocence Project who in the course of their investigation discovered an agreement between the prosecutor, the county sheriff, and a representative of the FBI, that no DNA testing on the rape kit would be performed, calling into question the prosecutor’s statement that the rape kit was negative for DNA.
Once Floyd’s lawyers were able to obtain DNA testing on a vaginal swab and the rape kit, it was determined these items contained the DNA of Tom Bledsoe and excluded Floyd Bledsoe. DNA on Zetta’s socks from Floyd Bledsoe Sr. indicated he had likely assisted Tom to pull the body to its final resting spot.
A month before Floyd’s conviction was vacated, Tom Bledsoe committed suicide, leaving notes admitting he raped and murdered Zetta and apologizing for betraying his innocent brother.
Floyd spent 15 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. Again, prosecutorial misconduct together with ineffective legal counsel, and perjured testimony played a role in the injustice that befell Floyd.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang