March 08, 2011

Wrongfully Convicted, 35 Years Later

new janisBy Janis Prince Inniss

clip_image002How much money would you be willing to accept to give up five years of your life? How about 10 or 20? How would you decide on an amount? Would you accept $1.7 million to give up 35 years?

If you sat out the last 35 years what would you have missed? Maybe your entire life! If you were to list the possessions you are most attached to, high on the list might be the cell phone, the Ipod, the (personal) computer and many related things including the internet, YouTube, Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter. Imagine life without any of these goodies. For James Bain, this is no idle exercise, as he has lost 35 years of a free life and is currently awaiting $1.7 million as restitution for the mistakes that imprisoned him.

clip_image004The name James Bain meant nothing to me before December 2009. It’s a name that I’m unlikely to forget now though. I remember seeing Bain at a news conference that December—I think I watched it live—and I was struck! I wasn’t star struck; Bain is not a celebrity, but I was struck by the simple, zen-like calm that emanated from him as he spoke to a small crowd gathered outside the courthouse in Polk county, Florida. There is something gentle about Bain; it’s hard to imagine him in a prison of tough guys. But in December 2009, Bain was released from prison after spending 35 years there.

In 1974, a nine-year-old boy living in Lake Wales, Florida was plucked from his bed and raped. The boy’s description of his attacker led his uncle to think that he may have been James Bain, who was a student at the high school where the uncle worked as an assistant principal . There is some debate about whether the victim was steered towards doing so, but he selected Bain as his attacker from a photo lineup. So despite 19- year-old Jimmy Bain’s protests that he was at home with his twin sister at the time of the crime, he was tried and convicted of kidnapping and raping the child. Bain, who had no prior criminal record, protested his innocence all along, but off he went to prison.

I’ve heard the joke that everybody in prison is innocent, so Bain’s protestations didn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t guilty. Over the years, Bain tried to get DNA testing of the victim’s clothing, but his appeals were all denied. Attorneys from the Innocence Project of Florida were able to get DNA testing done in July of 2009, proving that Bain was falsely imprisoned. He was imprisoned for 35 years for a crime he did not commit! He spent all of his 20s in prison. And all of his 30s. And his 40s. And he began his 50s in prison. At the time of his release, Bain had spent more time in prison than any one else in the U.S. who was eventually exonerated by DNA evidence.

If we think of the life course perspective that chunks life into stages, James Bain missed transitional adulthood, which is the name for the stage of those ages 18-29. Bain began his sentence at a time during which many of us attend college and then begin our careers. By the end of the 20s many are dating or married and have professional degrees or licenses. Bain didn’t get his driver’s license until age 55 and he plans to get a GED and take the state of Florida up on its offer to pay for his college tuition.

Bain also spent what is referred to as the early middle years (ages 30-49) in prison. In the free world, people at that life stage often experience career shifts and divorce. Bain left prison at 53—the beginning of what is called the later middle years (ages 50-65)—a time at which people generally begin to think about their mortality as they encounter health problems. At 55, Bain is engaged to a woman who has a young child and was seeking employment, events that had he been out of prison would have likely taken place in his 20s. Also, in his 50s, he attended his first NFL football game.

What are your reactions to Bain’s story? How much do you think he should be paid by the state for all that he missed? (More than a year after his release, Bain appears to be experiencing bureaucratic gridlock; although the state has promised to pay him $1.7 million, he has not received a single dollar yet.) How much is it worth not to get an education or start a family? Or never to have used a cell phone? Or to miss being with family and friends?

Is it inevitable that as a society we will incarcerate some portion of people who are innocent? The Innocence Project , an organization which exists to free wrongfully convicted people, has exonerated more than 260 people since its creation in 1992. What, if anything, do you think needs to be changed in the criminal justice system to ensure that The Innocence Project is no longer needed?



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I have never heard this story before, I feel so sad that the technology at that time as not enough to put the right prson in prision for such a hanus crime. His story is so touching and it makes me want to do something about it.

This is a very bittersweet story, it is very good to see that he has been proven innocent and is being compensated for his time. However, it is also sad that it took so long to prove he was innocent. Hopefully as technology advances, we will be able to avoid cases like this one more often.

Wrongly convicted at thirty five
I think that this is a reason that we should make shure that people are guilty before taey are convicted. The witness testimonie may have been influenced, so it should have been thrown out.

To be sent to prison at 19, know you are innocent and then finally be released 35 years later. That must have been hard for him, to be in prison for that long knowing he has done nothing wrong. If you think about all the events, all the advances he missed in the last 35 years, its just insanity. I am glad to see he is being given $1.7 million restitution, and is also being given a free education, but to have missed that much of your life, you miss out on countless things.

I see this as a very very sad story, to cage a human being, that as lost his years of life experience that some of us so greatly treasured.I read about other people who committed greater crimes and did not spend that lent of time incarceration. At lease give the man back his dignity and respect.He deserved to be paid two millions for every two years the system have taken away from his god given life.

"Sad" is too pale a word to describe my reaction. This is attrocious; it was the height of incompetence from all the so-called "professionals" involved. Those who prosecuted and defended him, those who sentenced him, and those who rejected his appeals should all come under very close scrutiny. Their other past past decisions should also come under scrutiny. This case is evidence that the system is seriously flawed. The systems that allow this to happen, and still allow the pay-out to occur so slowly, are clearly due for public scrutiny...including a proper systems analysis of the prosecution system. I'd expect this kind of thing in a dictatorship or totalitarian state. It suggests to me the so-called "justice" system is all a front and lacks true substantial justice.

And I discourage anyone from dismissing my comments as vexatious complaints. I don't personally know a single person who has had any real run-in with the law (apart from parking tickets and speeding fines). I'm part of that portion of the community who are not disadvantaged at all by my color or cultural background...and I am ashamed to be part of a country that allows this guy's situation to occur.

This is a heartbreaking story, it is good to see that his innocents have been proven and he is being reimburse for his wasted years. However, it is sad that it took so long to prove he was wrongfully convicted, the man missed countless oppertunties and half his life behind bars. Hopefully as technology becomes more advance, we will be able to avoid more cases like this one.

This is a terrible story, and just flat out sad. He was sent to prison as just a young boy, and he knew he was innocent, I cannot imagine what he was feeling.I cannot believe he was locked away for 35 years for a crime he never committed. He missed so much of his life, and now he has to try and adapt to ilfe 35 years later. Unbelieveable.

Wow, this is ridiculous and shows how flawed our legal system is. I cannot imagine spending the meat of my lifetime in prison for something I did not do. The poor guy had to sit on the bench the first half of his life. The stuff that he missed cannot put replaced by money. He missed out on an education and a long career and a long happy marriage. All the money is nice, but it cannot make up for what he missed. I feel bad for Bain. He's on the downward slope of his life and he's just begun living.

I heard about this a while back and didn't know how bad it really was. A young high school man spent 35 years in prison just because of a mug shot line up of a little girls opinion?! I understood that money cannot replace precious time and is materialistic, but he deserves every penny. I cannot believe he hasn't got any of it yet and I think it should be worth more than a lousy 1.7 million...which is a lot to most, but when your life was taken away it seems worthless. Blain missed family events, america evolving, and many other things that cannot be redone, seems that is the worse than death in some cases.

This story of Jimmy Bain's was a sad story. I wouldn't imagine spending 35 years of my life in prison to the crime that I did not do. They should of found evidence and other belongings to see if he committed this crime instead of just sending him off to prison and having him spend his whole life in prison to the crime he did not do. I'm happy that he now is out and he got his license, plans to get his GED, and he attends his first NFL football game. Now that he's out he gets to spend the rest of his life that he has to experience what's going on in life and the things that he has missed with his family and friends.

Even though it does not happen often, convicting innocent people is inevitable. There will always be mistakes made and evidence that slips by or doesn't get tested. That is why I think organizations like the Innocence Project are great. They help defend the people that are never given a second chance and help to turn their life around. I know I would want their help if I was innocent.

This is a very sad story and really shows that the justice system is no where near perfect. He sacrificed most of his life in a jail cell because they refused to do DNA testing. In my eyes there is no amount of money that could bring back the memories he could have had but missed because of this horrible mistake. Sad story.

I think this is not something to take lightly he went 35 years to prison thats years he will never get back. If anything i would as for more if i was him because he missed so much in his life he asked for the DNA testing but was not even tested. I think they could have done that sooner but you can see the justice system does have flaws I am happy fot the man he got his freedom

This is a very sad story and shows how imperfect the justice system is. He spent 35 years in prison that he will never get back. They should have accepted his request for DNA testing, because if it came up that he did do it, then they don't have to worry about putting him in jail because he would be there. already But since he didn't do it that changes everything. I believe those 35 years is worth can not be replaced by money, but the money would be a good start up for him. I think the people that convicted him should spend 35 years of their life to see what they took away from him.

Not only is this story concurrently fascinating, depressing and hopeful all at once, crime and deviance is a subject close to my heart as I hope to spend a career eradicating the flaws in our justice system. It is very disturbing that a 19-year-old student, with no prior offenses, could so easily be convicted of such a crime which offered no witness, evidence or DNA confirmation beyond a one-time identification in a single photo-lineup. Deviance can be defined in multiple ways, one of which is membership in a discredited or oppressed group, such as being an African American up until 1967, when segregation ended. Considering the leap of judgment that is to assume Bain was already considered a deviant in 1974 for his ethnicity alone, the victim’s uncle had no grounds to accuse Bain. Furthermore, law officials arrested, held, and prosecuted Bain to the fullest extent relying only on the identification in a photo-lineup of the 9-year-old victim, the same photo-lineup that was debated concerning coercion. What constitutes as justice anymore, many would say punishment as incapacitation is defined as “an approach to punishment that seeks to protect society from criminals by imprisoning or executing them”. It is easy to feel the satisfaction of retributive justice, however whose agenda does it serve if those that are incapacitated are innocent, certainly not society‘s. Many social and political factors play a part in James Bain’s case, particularly society’s need to set examples of those who deviate from society’s norms. Bain’s numerous appeals for DNA testing were denied throughout the duration of his sentence and it was not until the Innocence Project of Florida took on his case was DNA testing done. It is not in society’s best interest to arbitrarily put criminals in prison and throw away the key, it is a self-defeating, self-perpetuating failure of an institution.

This story and blog posting by Janice Prince Inniss made me really upset and frustrated at our criminal justice system. For thirty-five years, an innocent man had to be behind bars with the mentality knowing that he truly did not commit the crime. After reading this blog, I have so much respect for this man that I do not even know. He tried many times before to prove his innocence, yet each time he tried, he was denied access. This says a lot to me about our criminal justice system. For example, why did they deny access for Bain for wanting to get DNA testing done to the clothes of the victim? In 1974, DNA testing did not even exist, so when the discovery came out, you would think that the court would want to make sure that they had the right man, especially since the one convicted was pleading his innocence and tried to appeal numerous times. One reason why I chose this article is because I have always been interested in the criminal justice system, and actually am studying psychology and sociology because I want to become a criminal psychologist. The is blog posting upset me because I can only imagine what Jamie Bain must be thinking and going through. He was stuck in prison for most of his life, where he probably had to defend himself from real criminals. Also, another fact that upsets me is that while Bain served time for the crime he didn’t commit, the real rapist is still out there and got away with it. I am extremely pleased that the Innocence Project came to the rescue of Jamie Bain and helped him reclaim his virtue, and they also inspired me to continue studying the aspect of criminal justice and hopefully stop any innocent people from being sentenced to prison for a crime they didn’t commit in the future.

This story is heart breaking. An innocent man put in jail for most of his life and he never commited it. I think that the government should have let him got a DNA test. I think that is cruel. What happened to you are innocent until proven guilty? Are we just going to get blamed for something because we look like someone who might have done it? You need proof to put someone behind bars. I think that our government needs to do something about that and make sure that it will never happen again. I don't think any innocent person should be put in jail for something they did not do. This story of this guy is terrible and it shows people that the government isn't stable and they don't do what they say they will do. That we are innocent until we are proven guilty.

I'm happy to report that after his release more than a year and a half ago, Mr. Bain has finally been compensated. See here:

There's a case also that he was wrongfully convicted for 28 years and is offered 2 million. Money is not enough to bring back the freedom you deserve for how many years.

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