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Picking Cotton Questions
by Matt (innocent_man)
at April 29th, 2010 (12:05 pm)

1. What did you think of the format where the two switched off writing their own sections and then had the one combining the two? Did you find it effective?

Sure. I thought it was pretty seamlessly edited together, and their voices are distinct enough that it made for an easy read.

2. After reading Jennifer's section of the book, did you find yourself feeling even a little biased against Ronald even if you knew exactly what the book was about and that he was innocent?

Nope. There was a mention of Ronald having some kind of record, and I was curious about that, but I also know how easy it is for something that you did by mistake (or something that someone misinterpreted) to follow you forever.

3. Conversely, after reading Ronald's part of the book, did you feel any resentment or other negative emotion toward Jennifer?

Not really. I understand how memory works, and the research is also pretty clear that we don't see people of different races the same way we do people of our own (cultural biases aside). Jennifer was put through a traumatic experience, and then asked to help find who did it, but not given the tools to do that. I believe that if Poole had been in that initial lineup, he'd have been the one she picked, but the police screwed that up.

4. Jennifer's family was less than supportive during her ordeal, while Ronald's was supportive and believed in his innocence. What sort of impact, if any, do you think these had on the two over the years before Ronald was found innocent?

Holy cow. I wanted to smack her family, and especially her fiancee. How amazingly insensitive can you be?

As for Ronald's family, it was made pretty clear that they were the only reasons that he didn't knife Poole in prison. And as much as Poole would have deserved a good knifing, that would have justifiably put Ronald away forever, and probably never given Jennifer (or the rest of the world). It's a shame that Jennifer didn't have that kind of support.

5. Do you believe that race played a part in the equation at all? Why or why not? And if so, how much so?

Oh, absolutely. I think that if Jennifer had been black, or if she had been raped by a white man, the result would have been much different. In what way? Hard to know. It seemed like the police who pursued the case initially did so with good intention, but would their own biases have gotten in the way if they'd been looking for a white guy? Would they have been more inclined to believe Ronald about getting dates mixed up? Impossible to say.

6. What were your feelings about Jennifer after she saw Bobby Poole in the courtroom and yet still insisted that Ronald was her rapist?

I think that more relevant is the fact that once she knew the truth, she was eventually able to become friends with Ronald. In fairness, she only saw Poole once, under extremely traumatic conditions, and after that everything she was hearing from everyone who wanted justice for her said that Ronald was the guy. How do you argue with that?

7. Jennifer went to great lengths to memorize what her attacker looked like, and still she chose the wrong man. What does this tell you about eyewitness testimony and its reliability? What impact do you think that investigators had with the identification of Ronald Cotton as the rapist?

Exactly what the book said - eyewitness testimony is only reliable when you get it the right way. And, as Leonard Shelby tells us (and goes on to illustrate), memory is unreliable in general and irrelevant if you have the facts. I think that the investigators steered Jennifer toward an identification, and didn't take enough pains to make sure they weren't guiding her. That's human nature; we think we can remain neutral and objective, and we can't, which is why scientists have things like double-blind studies and peer review and so on. Investigation is a scientific process, and benefits from the same kind of care.

8. There have been about 252 people exonerated by DNA evidence since 1989. 17 of those exonerated have been on death row. How do these facts, along with the reading of this book, change your opinions and beliefs about people in prison, if at all?

I remember Justin Achilli getting out of jury duty by saying that innocent people don't get arrested. It's patently false, obviously. And it's not just that innocent people get arrested, sometimes people get fucked by the system and wind up doing an exorbitant amount of time for something that shouldn't be illegal in the first place.

The idea is that you're innocent until proven guilty, but I've been on a jury (was the foreman, in fact). And it's very, very difficult to prove anything. Besides which, the emphasis isn't on what's true, it's on what's admissible. The guy we tried was also under indictment for going back and shooting up the house in which he'd been discovered passed out with a knock-off AK-47, but the jury couldn't hear about that. The judge in Cotton's case disallowed testimony from a memory expert that might well have been useful. I think that most people in prison deserve to be there, just because it's not exactly easy to convict someone without some evidence. But I think that, as a culture, we need to examine our methods and our priorities.

9. Ronald Cotton took no time at all to forgive Jennifer when she apologized to him. What do you think that this says about him?

I think that it says he's a good and honest man. I also think that his time in prison taught him that nothing's easy and everyone looks our for themselves. I think he understood why Jennifer did what she did, and if you understand her motives, it's easier to forgive (I think that also may be why his wife wasn't so quick to forgive - she didn't have the perspective that Cotton did).


Posted by: Becky (chrisondra)
Posted at: May 1st, 2010 01:55 am (UTC)
Law Eqaulity

I honestly think there are more people in the prisons than actually deserve to be there. Guilty and deserving to be there are two very different things. There are several crimes you can be sent to prison for that I don't think people should be sent there for along with all the baggage that goes with it, even assuming they're guilty.

>>The idea is that you're innocent until proven guilty<<

Now, here's an interesting tidbit. I'm not 100% it's true, but I remember hearing/reading that, in England (or maybe Belgium, now that I think about it, I might have read it in my Deviant Sociology text and he visited Belgium), you're guilty until proven innocent. It sounds jaw-dropping at first, but the idea is that being guilty until being proven innocent puts the burden of proof on innocence rather than guilt. So the courts aren't there to prove someone's guilty, the courts are there to prove someone's innocent.

It's an interesting outlook, I think.

Posted by: Matt (innocent_man)
Posted at: May 1st, 2010 02:42 am (UTC)

There are several crimes you can be sent to prison for that I don't think people should be sent there for along with all the baggage that goes with it, even assuming they're guilty.

Definitely agree. As a point of interest, I chatted with a trial judge some years back, and he told me it was his personal policy never to give jail time to someone who wasn't a violent offender, if he could avoid it. In particular, he said locking folks up for drug charges bugged him, because all jail time did was turn them into real criminals.

Posted by: Becky (chrisondra)
Posted at: May 1st, 2010 02:57 am (UTC)

That's cool of the judge! And it takes away so much from them.. time in their lives, their right to vote, dampens their chance to get a job, etc. The unemployment rate of ex-felons is so bad that it's not even averaged into the US unemployment rate because it would take the percentage up an entire point or two.

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