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October 13, 2010

"I Was Certain, But I Was Wrong" — by Jennifer Thompson


Thompson's June 18, 2000 above-titled New York Times Op-Ed page essay is so valuable that I have reposted it annually since its first appearance here in 2004.

Last year I featured "Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption," a book co-authored by Thompson and Ronald Cotton (below),


the man whose positive I.D. by Thompson sent him to prison for 11 years — for a crime he didn't commit.

Here's the Times piece.


    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?



Thompson's essay was a clarion call that heralded a cascade of evidence over the past decade calling into question the believability of eyewitnesses — even when they are dead certain.

October 13, 2010 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Sticky Lamp


"The plastic which would normally be discarded becomes the casing. Self-adhesive, sticks anywhere."

$47 (requires energy saver or LED bulb [not included]).

October 13, 2010 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Space on the cheap: Man and son send takeout container to 100,000 feet

Better yet: they filmed the entire journey with an onboard camera, including its controlled descent back to Earth.

Long story short: a seven-year-old boy asked his dad if they could make a spacecraft and before you know it, they'd rigged up a weather balloon and camera and launched.

Sam Grobart's story in yesterday's New York Times Science section has the details.

Or you can just watch the movie.

October 13, 2010 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Is cellphone radiation eating your brain?


From Laura Johannes's October 5, 2010 Wall Street Journal story:


There is an app called tawkon, which mines the data inside smartphones to determine how much radiation a person gets, according to Tawkon Ltd., of Herzliya, Israel. Low levels of radiation show up on an icon on the phone's screen as green; intermediate levels as yellow; and higher levels as red. The app is available for some BlackBerry phones and Android models.


If you're in the red zone, the app displays a suggestion, such as using a headset, holding the phone fully vertical or moving to a better reception area, where the cellphone will emit fewer radio waves. The catch is that, as Tawkon CEO Gil Friedlander says, there is no scientific basis for where to draw the line between red, yellow and green. Users can change the cutoffs as they choose. "We divided it arbitrarily," he says.



Free, the way we like it.

October 13, 2010 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Google reads my Twitter posts


How else to explain the following:

1. A week ago Tuesday, October 5, 2010, I tweeted as pictured above.

2. Yesterday when I looked at Gmail on my iPad, "the box with the little slot on one side and the arrow above it pointing down" had lost the arrow and gained the label "Archive":



3. This morning I received this Twitter reply:


from one Scott Eblen of London Branch:


Yes, Scott, the latest version is better.

I'm struck by the power of my random, unaddressed tweet to reach someone at Google who could act on it.

I do not believe an email to Google would've yielded nearly the same excellent result as quickly as it did.

For one thing, whom would I address it to?

I mean, I know there are a number of individuals at Google who follow bookofjoe but it's not as if I "know" who they are — with a couple exceptions.

October 13, 2010 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Great Supreme Court Cases Mug


"Hot beverage reveals the victors."



October 13, 2010 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Alice in Wonderland Stilettos


From a January 29, 2010 Style.com post: "Last week, we previewed a sketch [below]


of Nicholas Kirkwood's Alice in Wonderland-inspired heels, made on commission for the French department store Printemps, which is giving over its windows to all things Alice through March. (Sad to say, they’re window-only — you’ll have to find another pair to wear to the theater.)."

October 13, 2010 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Alpine Ibex take a stroll on the face of the Lake Cingino Dam in the Italian Alps

Yesterday's 4:01 p.m. post elicited the following comment from NaJaKwa:




the photo at the link above of the actual Buffalo Bill Dam, clearly not ibex — or bighorn sheep, for that matter — friendly.

Below, the Lake Cingino Dam.


Interestingly, one commenter wrote, "I would have said that pic was Photoshopped without the vids...."

The individual who created the post featuring the Italian dam replied, "Exactly the reason the vids are there too."

The caption for the video up top: "INCREDIBILE !!!! STAMBECCO SULLA PARETE VERTICALE DELLA DIGA del LAGO CINGINO (quota 2200) VALLE ANTRONA - lecca le rocce alla ricerca dei suoi integratori alimentari (sodio, calcio, fosforo e magnesio )....."

The Google translation of this caption: "INCREDIBLE!! IBEX on the vertical wall DAM LAKE Cingino (2200) VALLEY ANTRONA - licking the rocks in search of his supplements food (sodium, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium)...."

The caption for the video below:

"Uno stambecco scende con disinvoltura dalla ripida parete della diga nei pressi del rifugio Baitone (BS)."

Anyway, mea culpa.

There is no excuse for my having put something up without investigating its bona fides first.

Had I looked at the photos in yesterday's post with any degree of attention, I'd have noticed the horns, clearly not those of bighorn sheep and just as obviously characteristic of the ibex.

I must do better.

One more for the road?

Why the heck not, you were patient enough to stay with me this far....

I like to save the best for last.




October 13, 2010 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

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