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March 18, 2005

'I Was Certain, but I Was Wrong'


That's the title of one of the most powerful essays I've ever read.

By Jennifer Thompson, it appeared on the Op-Ed page of the Sunday, June 18, 2000 New York Times.

Whenever someone seems really sure of themself, I think of this essay and say, "You can't be 100% certain."

Oftimes annoyance, irritation, and even outright hostility ensue.

Read the article (below), and see why I always have a shadow of doubt about even the most definite of my recollections and memories.

'I Was Certain, but I Was Wrong'

In 1984 I was a 22-year-old college student with a grade point average of 4.0, and I really wanted to do something with my life. One night someone broke into my apartment, put a knife to my throat and raped me.

During my ordeal, some of my determination took an urgent new direction. I studied every single detail on the rapist's face. I looked at his hairline; I looked for scars, for tattoos, for anything that would help me identify him. When and if I survived the attack, I was going to make sure that he was put in prison and he was going to rot.

When I went to the police department later that day, I worked on a composite sketch to the very best of my ability. I looked through hundreds of noses and eyes and eyebrows and hairlines and nostrils and lips. Several days later, looking at a series of police photos, I identified my attacker. I knew this was the man. I was completely confident. I was sure.

I picked the same man in a lineup. Again, I was sure. I knew it. I had picked the right guy, and he was going to go to jail. If there was the possibility of a death sentence, I wanted him to die. I wanted to flip the switch.

When the case went to trial in 1986, I stood up on the stand, put my hand on the Bible and swore to tell the truth. Based on my testimony, Ronald Junior Cotton was sentenced to prison for life. It was the happiest day of my life because I could begin to put it all behind me.

In 1987, the case was retried because an appellate court had overturned Ronald Cotton's conviction. During a pretrial hearing, I learned that another man had supposedly claimed to be my attacker and was bragging about it in the same prison wing where Ronald Cotton was being held. This man, Bobby Poole, was brought into court, and I was asked, ''Ms. Thompson, have you ever seen this man?''

I answered: ''I have never seen him in my life. I have no idea who he is.''

Ronald Cotton was sentenced again to two life sentences. Ronald Cotton was never going to see light; he was never going to get out; he was never going to hurt another woman; he was never going to rape another woman.

In 1995, 11 years after I had first identified Ronald Cotton, I was asked to provide a blood sample so that DNA tests could be run on evidence from the rape. I agreed because I knew that Ronald Cotton had raped me and DNA was only going to confirm that. The test would allow me to move on once and for all.

I will never forget the day I learned about the DNA results. I was standing in my kitchen when the detective and the district attorney visited. They were good and decent people who were trying to do their jobs - as I had done mine, as anyone would try to do the right thing. They told me: ''Ronald Cotton didn't rape you. It was Bobby Poole.''

The man I was so sure I had never seen in my life was the man who was inches from my throat, who raped me, who hurt me, who took my spirit away, who robbed me of my soul. And the man I had identified so emphatically on so many occasions was absolutely innocent.

Ronald Cotton was released from prison after serving 11 years. Bobby Poole pleaded guilty to raping me.

Ronald Cotton and I are the same age, so I knew what he had missed during those 11 years. My life had gone on. I had gotten married. I had graduated from college. I worked. I was a parent. Ronald Cotton hadn't gotten to do any of that.

Mr. Cotton and I have now crossed the boundaries of both the terrible way we came together and our racial difference (he is black and I am white) and have become friends. Although he is now moving on with his own life, I live with constant anguish that my profound mistake cost him so dearly. I cannot begin to imagine what would have happened had my mistaken identification occurred in a capital case.

Today there is a man in Texas named Gary Graham who is about to be executed because one witness is confident that Mr. Graham is the killer she saw from 30 to 40 feet away. This woman saw the murderer for only a fraction of the time that I saw the man who raped me. Several other witnesses contradict her, but the jury that convicted Mr. Graham never heard any of the conflicting testimony.

If anything good can come out of what Ronald Cotton suffered because of my limitations as a human being, let it be an awareness of the fact that eyewitnesses can and do make mistakes. I have now had occasion to study this subject a bit, and I have come to realize that eyewitness error has been recognized as the leading cause of wrongful convictions. One witness is not enough, especially when her story is contradicted by other good people.

Last week, I traveled to Houston to beg Gov. George W. Bush and his parole board not to execute Gary Graham based on this kind of evidence. I have never before spoken out on behalf of any inmate. I stood with a group of 11 men and women who had been convicted based on mistaken eyewitness testimony, only to be exonerated later by DNA or other evidence.

With them, I urged the Texas officials to grant Gary Graham a new trial, so that the eyewitnesses who are so sure that he is innocent can at long last be heard.

I know that there is an eyewitness who is absolutely positive she saw Gary Graham commit murder. But she cannot possibly be any more positive than I was about Ronald Cotton. What if she is dead wrong?

March 18, 2005 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Furniture Bag


From the website:

"Heavy-duty furniture cover protects upholstery while letting its beauty show through."

That's the scariest sales pitch I've ever read.

Because they're serious.

$9.98 here (item # 3796).

March 18, 2005 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Iconize Me!


Admit it: you've always felt a bit larger than life.

Time to share your feeling with everyone else, what?

"For as little as $15, you can have a custom caricature of you, your friends, or loved ones hand-drawn and delivered over the internet."


Get yours here.

[via whereisben.com]

March 18, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Official bookofjoe clothing


At last.

The fans have spoken.

For months now there's been an unremitting drumbeat of demand for officially licensed bookofjoe wear, not the stuff being sold on sidewalks from Shanghai to South Beach.

At last, it's here.

And my crack design team (this is the first you've heard of them: for obvious reasons, I've had to keep them under wraps, "deep black" as you say over at Fort Meade — yeah, I know you're listening but heck, I'm down wit dat) has brought it in for a very nice price.

Yes, for only $19.98 you can now wear the very same outfit I and my crack research team wear whenever we're on the job — which is essentially always.

But it doesn't stop there: heck, we keep our togs on for play and sleep and whatever.

We even shower in 'em — no towel necessary.

One size fits all — which, I've always thought, is another way of saying, "One size fits nobody."

But who cares when you're wearing joegear™?

Look for the signature italic B — it identifies your outfit as genuine joegear™.

Let people know you're a joehead.

As if.

Oh, yeah — you'll need a secret code number to order.

We'll call it an item number to fool those not savvy to operating under "Eyes Only" rules.

It's (nobody peeking over your shoulder?) 13978.

March 18, 2005 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Zinio — Digital Magazines


Read your favorite magazines on your PC or Mac.

Available in the same format as the paper version, but also:

• Instantly accessible as soon as they're published

• Downloadable, so you can save them and read them at your convenience or leisure — even offline

• Keyword searchable

• Paperless archives

• Easily shared — instantly send a free copy to a friend

More titles added every day.

Could this be the new new thing?

Perhaps — once they improve the quality of print on computer screens.

[via whereisben.com]

March 18, 2005 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

High Heel Cake Server


Serve a slice with this stunning stainless-steel server, sliding it ever so subtly.

The device has a magnetic "heel" on its handle that transforms it into a size seven slide shoe.

"The heel comes off for serving, but isn't everything a little bit sexier in a heel?"

For the girl who does everything in her Manolos, but finds them not quite possessed of enough equipoise to handle this task.

$20 here.

March 18, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

'The End of the Internet': Eye Wide Shut


Pages that state they're "The End of the Internet" are a dime a googol, so why should this one rate a spot on bookofjoe?

Simple: under their boiler-plate image (above), in tiny letters, it says,

    Note: image best viewed with eyes closed.

Well, that's enough for this man.

In my opinion, most things would benefit from such a perspective.

Including this blog.

So, all together now - like in that live Neil Young song where he's performing as a thunderstorm's about to break out, and he says to the crowd, maybe we can stop this rain if we all yell out, "No rain, no rain, no rain" - close your eyes.


Don't you feel better?

I know I do.

(Arlo Guthrie, please call your office: bookofjoe's ripping you off yet again)

March 18, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

1933 Double Eagle: The most valuable U.S. coin is now back in public view


It was purchased at Sotheby's auction on July 30, 2002 by a mysterious, still-unknown buyer for $7.59 million after fierce bidding by eight prospective owners.

It was then put on display in the lobby of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, at 33 Liberty Street, having been loaned by its owner to the Fed for public exhibition.

Of course, that also guarantees free security by the federal government, which protects the coin with all available resources.

The double eagle was removed from public display last August on the occasion of a sudden "Orange Alert" from the Department of Homeland Security.

At that time it was taken to the bank's Level E subbasement, where it was locked in a compartment at bedrock, 80 feet below Liberty Street in Lower Manhattan.

There, it was surrounded by $90 billion worth of gold bars – some 550,000 of them – from 60 foreign institutions.

That is more gold than is in Fort Knox, and indeed, more than in any other repository on Earth.

The coin has a Maltese Falcon-esque history.

When the U.S. came off the gold standard in 1933, all 455,500 double eagles minted that year were ordered melted down, save for two reserved for the Smithsonian Institution.

However, 10 escaped into private hands.

During the 1940s and 50s nine of them surfaced; they were seized and destroyed by the U.S. Secret Service.

One, however, ended up in the legendary collection of King Farouk of Egypt.

It surfaced in Cairo in 1954, on the occasion of the auction of the collection of the deposed King Farouk.

The U.S. Treasury successfully requested that the coin be withdrawn from sale.

Subsequently, the coin effectively disappeared from view, and all manner of intrigue occurred until finally, in 2002, it - or yet another 1933 double eagle - was placed on the auction block.

It's the only 1933 double eagle which may be legally owned, though there may be others that have never come to light.

[via Glenn Collins and the New York Times]

March 18, 2005 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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