Essay Reflection Paper Of Ronald Cotton Case

Nicholas Gomez Dr. Michael Blankenship CJ 101-002 21 March 2011 Picking Cotton Reaction Paper Is the criminal justice system in the U.S. racist? The answer to this conflicting topic can differ from person. I honestly didn’t give it much thought till we started this class. This class has cause me to go over discussions regarding certain types of victimization and criminal behavior regarding race, has provided me with statistics about racism in the justice system and allowed me to really think about it all and form my own opinion on the subject. This information definitely made me think more about the subject of racism in the justice system but what really opened my eyes to it all was the personal story of Ronald Cotton in our reading of the book Picking Cotton . This was not just some random made up story, it was real life and while reading it I got a complete insight into his life during his stay in jail and out. When hearing Ronald Cotton’s story of wrongful convictions and the complete lack of evidence leading to his convictions, I found it quite easy to pick a side. A good part of our justice system here in America is indeed racist. The issues I will address throughout my paper all connect to this main idea of a racist justice system; racism itself in class as well as the book, a lack of evidence in convictions and the need for DNA testing when making convictions. How did each of these play a big role in Picking Cotton?

Ronald Cotton

Time Served: 10 years

Ronald Cotton was exonerated in 1995, after spending over 10 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. His convictions were based largely on an eyewitness misidentification made by one of the victims, Jennifer Thompson-Cannino. Cotton and Thompson-Cannino are now good friends and leading advocates for eyewitness identification reform.

In July 1984, an assailant broke into Jennifer Thompson-Cannino’s apartment and sexually assaulted her; later that night, the assailant broke into another apartment and sexually assaulted a second woman. Thompson-Cannino, then a 22-year-old college student, made every effort to study the perpetrator’s face while he was assaulting her. As she says on 60 Minutes, “I was just trying to pay attention to a detail, so that if I survived…I’d be able to help the police catch him.”

Investigation and Trial

Thompson-Cannino first chose Ronald Cotton as her attacker in a photo lineup. Soon after, she chose him again in a live lineup – she was 100 percent sure she had the right man. The evidence at trial included a flashlight found in Cotton’s home that resembled one used by the assailant and rubber from Cotton’s shoe that was consistent with rubber found at one of the crime scenes, but overwhelmingly the evidence rested on Thompson-Cannino’s identification.

In January 1985, Cotton was convicted by a jury of one count of rape and one count of burglary. In a second trial, in November 1987, Cotton was convicted of both rapes and two counts of burglary. He was sentenced to life in prison plus fifty-four years.

Post-Conviction Investigation

Cotton was unsuccessful overturning his conviction in several appeals. But in the spring of 1995, his case was given a major break: the Burlington Police Department turned over all evidence, which included the assailant’s semen for DNA testing, to the defense.

The samples from one victim were tested and showed no match to Cotton. At the defense’s request, the results were sent to the State Bureau of Investigation’s DNA database and the database showed a match with the convict who had earlier confessed to the crime to a fellow inmate in prison.

When the DNA test results were reported in May 1995, the district attorney and the defense motioned to dismiss all charges. On June 30, 1995, Cotton was officially cleared of all charges and released from prison. In July 1995, the governor of North Carolina officially pardoned Cotton. Cotton had served 10.5 years in prison.

Life after Exoneration

Soon after his release, Cotton got a job in the warehouse of LabCorp, the company that tested the DNA evidence that proved his innocence. He also married, had a child, and bought a piece of land to live on. He received $110,000 from the state for his wrongful conviction.

Thompson-Cannino and Cotton met for the first time after his exoneration. Thompson-Cannino states, “I just started to sob. I looked at him and I said, ‘If I spent every minute of every hour of every day for the rest of my life telling you that I’m sorry, can you ever forgive me?’ He did the one thing that I never imagined. He started to cry and he said, ‘Jennifer, I forgave you years ago.’”

Cotton and Thompson-Cannino are now good friends. They travel around the country working to spread the word about wrongful convictions and reforms – especially for eyewitness identification procedures – that can prevent future injustice.

State: North Carolina

Charge: Rape, Burglary

Conviction: Rape (2 cts.), Burglary (2 cts.)

Sentence: Life + 50 years

Incident Date: 06/29/84

Conviction Date: 01/16/85

Exoneration Date: 06/30/95

Served: 10 years

Race of Defendant: African American

Race of Victim: Caucasian

Status: Exonerated by DNA

Contributing Causes of Conviction: Eyewitness Misidentification, Unvalidated or Improper Forensic Science

Death Penalty Case: no

Accused Plead Guilty: No

Real Perpetrator Convicted of Subsequent Crime: No

Type of Forensic Science Problem: Other

Compensation: State Statute

Innocence Project Involved: Yes

The Alternative Perpetrator Identified: Yes

One thought on “Essay Reflection Paper Of Ronald Cotton Case

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *