September 28, 2007

Woman in ravine: A victim of police assumptions?

Who is victimized when police prematurely close in on the wrong suspect?

The suspect, of course.

I am writing from the Confessions and Interrogations conference in El Paso, where we heard yesterday from one such man. I've previously posted about Jeffrey Deskovic. Amazingly, he was convicted of a schoolmate's murder at age 16 despite DNA evidence of his innocence. He spent 16 years behind bars. He exhausted all of his appeals, and was freed last year only thanks to the random intervention of the Innocence Project and a new district attorney in his home county who was willing to re-test the DNA. He still looks a little dazed to be out. (As an aside, he is finishing up his bachelor's degree so that he can go on to law school, and his sole source of income comes from speaking engagements. He's an excellent speaker, so think about inviting him to your venue to discuss his case.)

But there are other types of victims who may not immediately come to mind.

How about all the women who are raped and murdered by the bad guys who remain on the loose? The serial rapist-killer in Deskovic's case went on to commit more violent crimes against women, as do many of the others, including the real perpetrators in the Central Park Jogger and the Norfolk Four cases.

There is another type of victim who is even less likely to come to mind.

Tanya Rider is an example of this type of victim. She went off the road while driving home from work one night, and spent the next eight days trapped in her car in a steep ravine near Renton, Washington.

What does she have to do with wrongful conviction?

Her husband learned about her rescue while sitting at the sheriff's station, waiting to take a polygraph examination. When he reported her missing, police turned the case into a criminal investigation with him as the prime suspect, he said today on national TV. This delayed and weakened the efforts to search for Tanya by several days, almost costing the young woman her life, he claims. And, if Tanya had not been found, he might well have become yet another in the growing list of wrongfully convicted.

She, meanwhile, remains hospitalized in critical condition. And, in another sign of the times, the couple has no medical insurance.