The Innocence Project


What would you do if you were accused of a crime that you did not commit? Colin Lowther and Liz Waid look at an organization helping innocent prisoners in the United States.

Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Colin Lowther. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 3 

“My name is Calvin C. Johnson Junior. I spent almost 17 years in prison. It was for a crime that I was completely innocent of. I am so thankful for the Innocence Project and for my freedom now. It is the beginning of a new beginning.”

Voice 1 

Calvin Johnson lives in the United States. Police put him in prison in 1983. He was accused of beating two women and forcing them to have sex. These were terrible crimes. But Johnson was innocent. Victims of the crime falsely identified Johnson. Then, after 17 years in prison, Johnson was set free. Johnson told the Associated Press:

Voice 3 

“I had faith that in some way, some day, the truth would come out, and I kept the faith...”

Voice 2 

Johnson was freed from prison because of The Innocence Project. This organization proved to the courts that Johnson was innocent. The Innocence Project has helped set free 311 innocent people, people like Calvin Johnson. Today’s Spotlight is on the Innocence Project.

Voice 1 

The Innocence Project is a legal organization. They have a simple goal: to help prisoners who could be innocent. To do this they use DNA evidence. DNA is a complex chemical molecule. All of the cells in the human body contain DNA. Every person has a different DNA structure. And every part of the body contains this individual DNA structure. Body fluids such as blood, saliva, semen and sweat have DNA in them. There is also DNA in people’s hair and skin.

Voice 2 

Criminals often leave DNA at a crime, in the form of body fluids, hair or pieces of skin. Police can collect these biological materials. Crime scientists test the DNA. Then, they can use these materials to match the criminal to the crime.

Voice 1 

The Innocence Project only works with cases that include biological material. The science of DNA testing is developing very quickly. And as it develops, the Innocence Project can look at more and more cases. The Innocence Project is currently processing 10,000 cases. And they receive 3,500 new requests for help every year.

Voice 2 

If DNA evidence is present, the Innocence Project can try to help. They collect and test the biological evidence. The results of this test go into a computer. If the convicted person is truly innocent, his DNA will be different than the material from the crime. In this way, he can prove he is not guilty. The court will declare him innocent of the crime, and set him free from prison.

Voice 1 

Over 2 million people are in prison in the United States. Like other places around the world, the legal system makes mistakes. Every country has problems with corruption. There are also many problems with bad police methods. Some police and legal experts even think they are doing the right thing when they are not! One negative result is that innocent people can be convicted of crimes.

Voice 2 

For example, many cases involve mistakes in identification by witnesses. Taryn Simon wrote a book on the Innocence Project. She explained how witnesses can be strongly influenced. Their memories may even change. Simon told the news organization NPR:

Voice 4 

“Mistaken identifications are strongly influenced by pictures, or other materials that people see. The law trusts a witness memory or the victim's memory. That memory is not exactly correct - all these innocent men show that."

Voice 1

 In other cases, police pressure an innocent person to confess to a crime. The person says that he did the crime, even if he did not do it! A person may falsely confess because he believes he has no other choices. Some people falsely confess because they do not understand the law.  But these people are still innocent.

Voice 2 

Innocent people also go to prison because, in the past, crime scientists did not have the best scientific tools. They used the best tools they could, but they were not always exact. Dennis Fritz’s case is an example of this. Fritz was convicted of murder in 1988. At that time, DNA testing was not possible. But a crime scientist looked at hair from the crime under a microscope. He also looked at Fritz’s hair. The two hairs were similar. Fritz was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. In 1999, the Innocence Project did DNA testing on the two hairs. They proved the hair from the crime did not belong to Dennis Fritz. He was exonerated and is now free.

Voice 1 

Fritz, Calvin Johnson, and other exonerated people are now making a new life out of prison. This can be very difficult. Their problems do not end when they leave prison. Instead there are new problems - finding a job, finding a place to live, making relationships again with friends and family. Helping exonerated people after prison is one of the difficulties the Innocence Project addresses.

Voice 2 

The Innocence Project faces other difficulties as well. It is very difficult to collect evidence for a case. Biological materials can easily be lost or destroyed. Some of the cases happened too many years ago. Crime scientists can no longer use the materials. And the criminal justice system is very complex. Working with prisons and the law can take a long time.

Voice 1 

But the Innocence Project continues its work. They know that they are making a difference. Huy Dao works for the Innocence Project. He told NPR that they will not give up. He expresses the hope that the Innocence Project has for the future:

Voice 5 

“What encourages us is that these few cases where innocence has been proven, can change the entire system. It can prevent the need for us! Actually it is curious that our jobs are, in the end, to make sure that the Innocence Project is not necessary! I do not think we are quite there yet but that is the way we would like to take.”

Voice 2 

The writer of this program was Rena Dam. The producer was Mark Drenth. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘The Innocence Project’.

Voice 1 

You can also leave your comments on our website. Or you can email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also find us on Facebook - just search for spotlightradio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

What would you do if you were accused of a crime that you did not commit?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
Dela
said on December 11, 2013

When someone is accused of a crime that he did not commit, that certainly is an awesome situation. The innocent prisoners should be exonerated, however, this process can be slow, difficult, very complicated, particularly if the cause is lasting for a long time. In spite of it the modern scientific methods of police investigation often help prevent the judicial errors.
Very interesting topic!
Greetings

Avatar Spotlight
kenhieuloilam
said on December 12, 2013

The life has difficulties, challenges and sufferings. All of us try much to live our lives well. We build for beautiful good things. When we live in difficulties we know how big difficulties are. When we live in sufferings we know how big sufferings are. We are on our journey of faith and hope. We accept all difficulties and challenges. We light fire of faith. Our faith shines in any life conditions. We sow love in the life. We hope for beautiful good things.

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jack shin
said on December 12, 2013

We can surely say that The Innocence Project work for the people suspected of being a criminal but there are always possibility of presenting mistakes or any wrongs in the process of investigation while police or authority are doing their job. Even now we’re living with such a huge benefit from high technology, there are still people suffered from falsely suspected of crime by lack of misconception and bad police method. Forcing people to confess the crime is not justice and it’s such a shame.

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Truongbinh1996
said on December 09, 2016

The Innocence Project is a good organization. this organization can help everyone in cases we are innocent. So every countries need to have a same organization to help innocent persons!

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on January 13, 2017

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the question above
Date: Friday 13, January 2017
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Liz Waid, Rena Dam, Colin Lowther, and Mark Drenth:

At first, I want to thank you for bringing us readers and learners of English more one great article, thanks!

I think I would die because I would not have power to fight against so many powerful and corrupts people who accused me of a bad action “crime” to prove my innocence.

Your regards,
Severino Ramos