James Bain - Exoneration After 35 Years Research Paper Samples
In the recent years we have witnessed a spate of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence including those on death row. The primary reason why most of the exonerated were convicted initially was mistaken identification. The victim of a violent crime such as rape is usually traumatized by the incident and suffers a great deal of emotional damage even over several years after the crime. They are usually in severe shock and filled with shame due to the nature of the crime itself. Unless the crime was committed by someone they knew for a long time, it makes identification impossible. However, in 1974 the studies relating to this subject was still in its infancy and DNA testing was still more than a decade away. This paved the way for one of the longest wrongfully convicted jail sentences to happen. This case had two innocent victims; the nine year old boy who was raped and the man he identified as his assailant – James Bain.
On 4 March 1974, a nine year old boy who was sleeping in his house located in Lake Wales, Florida was dragged out to a baseball field where a man sporting a mustache and sideburns brutally raped him. The victim told the police that his assailant was probably a teenager aged at 17 or 18 and sported a mustache along with bushy sideburns. The rapist also said his name was Jim or Jimmy. The victim’s uncle suggested that the description of the rapist sounded a lot like James Bain. The police provided the victim with a photograph line-up which had only two men who had mustaches and sideburns. The victim picked out James Bain. Ironically, the victim stated seeing a red motorcycle nearby; James Bain had a red motorcycle (Innocence project, 2009). Following the photo identification, the police arrested a protesting James Bain from his house just after midnight on 5 March 1974. There was some semen evidence on the clothes of the victim. These were sent to the FBI’s forensic labs.
The trial was a conducted in a shoddy manner including poor advocating skills exhibited by the defense teams. They picked up family members as witnesses and left out the others although there were at least a dozen of them who could have testified that James Bain was at a party and could not have made the timeframe of the rape. In addition, the defense failed to rebut the identification evidence effectively. The evidence for the prosecution suggested that the victim had positively identified the assailant and the serology test indicated the offender to be a B blood type. Although Bain was a AB blood type, the FBI expert stated that the defendant could not be exempted because he was a weak A. However, the defense expert testified that James Bain had a strong A type. The defense again failed to capitalize on this aspect in cross examining the FBI expert on the findings. The jury was baying for the blood of the child rapist and decided that the victim was the best person to identify the assailant. They disregarded all the other evidence and returned with a guilty verdict for James Bain. The police and prosecution simply decided to accept that eye witness identification alone was sufficient or probably they thought it was easier to close the case even when blood types didn’t match. They probably never anticipated that DNA testing would come to the rescue of those they chose to ignore. Moreover, the jury found the victim’s testimony to be the most compelling. However, it is also known that juries tend to lean towards compassion and teary eyed victims than towards the material evidence that is available in the case. To them, they had seen a nine year old boy crying and testifying that James Bain was the attacker. That was sufficient ground; as disclosed later by the jury foreman.
The judge sentenced James Bain to life in prison without parole. The sentence was harsh on James Bain. He was not a physically attributed individual; he stood only at five foot and five inches and weighed less than 150 pounds when he stepped into prison. He never believed that he could have made it to five years let alone thirty five. He was involved in fights and there was an ever present danger in prisons especially for child molesters and child killers. Even among prisoners, these crimes were an aberration. Bain however decided to make most of the sentence and took up schooling while he was in prison; only eight years of his incarceration were not connected to school. He also learned to play chess and tried to keep himself occupied. His family visited him regularly. He also earned $40 a week as a welder in prison. In all he was housed in six different penitentiaries.
James Bain’s fight for justice was always on going. It started as early as his first day in prison. He made requests for the trial transcripts on multiple occasions and yet never received an answer. He also consulted inmates who knew some legal procedures and requested for DNA testing on five different occasions. All of the requests were denied. The courts stated that the timelines for DNA testing had passed in his case and hence they could not grant him the request. Two things happened in 2001 that changed the fate of James Bain. The first was the assigning of Melissa Montle of the Innocence Project to his case and secondly, Florida decided that they would remove the timelines restriction for DNA testing in certain cases. In addition, being aided by the Tenth Circuit public defender Bob Young, the court granted permission for James Bain’s DNA testing. The DNA test immediately concluded that James Bain was not the rapist. The Polk County State Attorney moved the court to have the charges against Bain to be dismissed and to secure his release. In 2009, the judge signed the release papers and James Bain was a free man once more; after spending a record thirty five years in prison (BBC, 2009).
The State of Florida granted James Bain $1.7 million at the rate of $50,000 for each year that he had been wrongfully incarcerated (Phillips, 2009). Although his attorney agrees that this is hardly the price of taking away a man’s life. He was arrested as a young man who was ready to start a career and have a family of his own. All those possibilities had been destroyed by the bungling committed by the police, prosecution, defense, the jury and the system that denied James Bain justice by citing timelines. Yet, comparatively Bain had received compensation and that was something.
One of the first things that James Bain did was to meet the victim who had mistakenly identified him. It was not a meeting that was intended for confrontation or to seek an apology. Bain simply told the victim that he was sorry for what had happened to him and that he had not harmed him. James Bain was reunited with his family; his mother and sister. The prosecution, judge and law enforcement personnel from James Bain’s case had passed away barring the district attorney. He had retired long back and in responding to an interview question, he stated that he was sorry for what had happened to James Bain. He added that they did the best they could with the technology that was available (Sterbenz, 2013). That is interesting since that technology even in 1974 did not point to James Bain. The jury foreman from James Bain’s trial was shocked to learn of his innocence. He burst into tears after learning that it had taken thirty five years to correct a mistake that he had made with eleven other jurors.
James Bain’s family had always believed that they would receive justice despite all the shortcomings in the system. James Bain is now a prominent figure in the Innocence movement and he visits schools to conduct seminars about his experience of being wrongfully incarcerated for thirty-five years. He is married at present and has a son. He spends much of his time writing a book at this time. However life on the outside in a totally different world compared to the one he left when he was arrested is not as simple as it was. He struggled to get a driving license and failed the test on multiple occasions. When he was arrested in 1974, he already had a license and a promising career path. Nowadays it is all about computers and the jobs that he was trained for did not exist. James Bain has confided in several interviews that the advancement in technology especially in cars or phones fascinated him. He was also enthralled to hold a mobile phone for the first time when he was on the steps of the court on the day of his release. Until then he believed that wireless telecommunication had always been owned by the military. James Bain has not been angry despite his wrongful incarceration. He in fact has been speaking about forgiveness and moving on (Parody, 2012). In contrast John Thompson who was wrongfully convicted for twelve years reacts with explosive anger whenever asked about his case. Yet James Bain says he is thankful for the life that has been returned to him and looks forward to live for tomorrow. The law is not perfect and it has not evolved the way crime has. There are several loopholes in it and much of it affects the innocent than criminal elements. Yet, the dependence on the eye witness identification alone without any other evidence to support the case; where is the element of not having reasonable doubt. Despite the availability of reasonable doubt, the jury’s ignorance in this case is a lesson for all of us to be wary of making similar decisions that involves the lives of the innocent; should we ever sit in a jury.
Sterbenz, Christina (2013). This Innocent Man Spent 35 Years In Prison Before DNA Evidence Proved He Didn't Rape A 9-Year-Old Boy. Retrieved from: http://www.businessinsider.in/This-Innocent-Man-Spent-35-Years-In-Prison-Before-DNA-Evidence-Proved-He-Didnt-Rape-A-9-Year-Old-Boy/articleshow/24345670.cms
Innocence project Staff (2009). James Bain. Retrieved from: http://www.innocenceproject.org/cases-false-imprisonment/james-bain
Phillips, Rich (2009). Florida man exonerated, freed from prison after 35 years. Retrieved from: http://edition.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/12/16/florida.dna.exoneration/
BBC Staff (2009). US man freed by DNA evidence after 35 years in prison. Retrieved from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8419854.stm
Parody, Clifford (2012). Exonerated Prisoner James Bain Discusses Justice, Forgiveness. Retrieved from: http://www.theledger.com/article/20121016/NEWS/121019485?tc=ar