Essay On A Wrongful Conviction
Timothy Cole was arrested for the rape of Michelle Mallin. In 1985, Mallin was abducted in her car from a parking lot at Texas Tech University and raped. Mallin’s only description of the assailant was that he was African American and that he smoked during the attack. Two weeks after the attack, Mallin was shown a photo line-up of suspects that included five pictures of men facing the side and a picture of Cole looking directly into the camera. She immediately picked Cole as the assailant.
Other than Mallin’s identification of Cole, there was no other evidence tying him to the attack. Cole did not smoke. In fact, he suffered from asthma that would have made it impossible for him to carry out the attack while smoking. Cole also had an alibi. Cole’s bother and friends told investigators that during the time the attack took place he was at home studying while his brother and friends were playing cards. In addition, there was evidence that another man, Jerry Johnson, might have been the assailant. To be sure, years later, Johnson would admit to being the rapist. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, forensic analysis could not prove that the bodily fluids and trace evidence found on Mallin after the attack was Cole’s beyond a reasonable doubt.
One of the fundamental powers of a prosecutor is discretion or the power to decide when, how and to what extent a criminal case will be litigated. Prosecutorial discretion is most commonly observed in their decision on whether or not to pursue criminal charges against a defendant. However, perhaps its most common use is in the plea deals it offers to defendant. A plea deal that can both obtain a guilty verdict without a trial while offering the defendant a punishment that they can accept makes for a more streamlined criminal justice system. Moreover, it can transform a bad case, from the prosecutor’s point of view, into an easy success. This is most likely the reasoning behind the plea deal offered to Cole in 1985.
The prosecutor assigned to the case, surely knew these facts and most likely came to the conclusion that the case against Cole was weak. On the other hand, it was a high profile case. Prior to Cole’s arrest, the university had been plagued by a string of rapes that put the community and police on high alert. Substantial effort had been expended by the police to find the rapist and assure everyone that it was safe. In fact, Cole was brought o the attention of the police by a undercover officer looking to lure the rapist to commit another rape. Accordingly, while the case against Cole was weak, not pursuing it was not an option, especially since they had Mallin’s identification of Cole.
Consequently, the prosecutor likely felt that a plea deal that got Cole to admit guilt while giving him probation was the most suitable way to resolve the case. If taken, the prosecutor could tell the community that law enforcement got “their man” and the community was safe again without having to go through a trial that would expose the state’s case weakness. Moreover, Cole could avoid jail. The prosecutor also most likely thought that Cole would take the plea deal because, despite the case’s weakness, who would the jury believe: Mallin, a white American woman who is sure Cole was the assailant; or Cole, an African American student who says he did not do anything.
In the end, Cole did not take the plea deal and as, the prosecutor deduced, the jury believed Mallin. Years later, however, the weakness of the case was exposed through Johnson’s confession and an investigation of the way the police, prosecutor and judge handled the case. Accordingly, a case that originally the prosecutor should have used his discretion to drop was dismissed. The sad fact remains that it took a wrongful conviction and death of an innocent man to accomplish it.
Schwartzapfel, Beth. “No Country for Innocent Men.” Mother Jones. Motherjones.com, Jan/Feb. 2012. Web. 24 Mar. 2015. <http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/tim-cole-rick-perry>
“Texan who died in prison cleared of rape conviction.” CNN. CNN.com, 6 Feb. 2009. Web. 24 Mar. 2015. <http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/02/06/texas.exoneration/>