Longest Held Wrongfully Convicted Man Goes Home

Bump and Update: Bain was freed from prison today and officially cleared of the crime.

James Bain has been imprisoned for a rape and murder he did not commit for 35 years. Of the 245 inmates cleared and freed by DNA testing, he has been in jail the longest. He is 54 years old, and has been imprisoned since age 19.

Today, he should be going home.

At the hearing Thursday in Bartow, Florida, the state is expected to agree to Bain's release while the final aspects of its investigation are completed. After the initial DNA test, state investigators collected more DNA from Bain and from the victim in the case for further testing. Another hearing will be held, probably after the new year, which would formally vacate his conviction.

..."It's an indication that while all the 'i's' have not been dotted yet, there appears to be a sufficient likelihood of where this is going," said the spokesman, Chip Thullbery. "We don't think it's appropriate for Mr. Bain to spend any more time in prison."

Mr. Bain's family is ready for his return. They have a house, car, and even pajamas waiting for him. And now he will start to rebuild his life. [More...]

States need to establish commissions to study why these wrongful convictions happen and how they can be prevented. Mr. Bain is Florida's 11th wrongfully convicted inmate found to be factually innocent.

On Friday, a group of renowned attorneys that includes former Florida Supreme Court justices, former presidents of the American Bar Association and former Florida Bar leaders, petitioned Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Peggy Quince for the formation of an actual innocence commission. The request is modeled after a similar undertaking in North Carolina that brought together judges, police, prosecutors, defense lawyers, victims' advocates and academics for a two-year review of procedures in the criminal justice system. The commission isolated factors that helped lead to wrongful convictions and recommended changes.

In Bain's case, mistaken eye-witness evidence was a chief cause of his wrongful conviction.

Bain's blood type didn't match the semen found on the victim's underpants. He also had an alibi: Bain and his sister had been at home watching television when the crime occurred. But a jury convicted him anyway. Bain was 19 years old at the time and had no prior criminal record.

It's time for Florida to establish an Innocence Commission. Gov. Charlie Crist needs to act on the petition.

When an innocent person goes to prison it is a tragedy for society as well as for the wrongfully convicted and his family. His life is ruined, taxpayers pay for his upkeep and the real criminal is still at large.

The Florida Innocence Project is representing Bain and has much more on his case and the proposed Commission.

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    And... (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by lentinel on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 05:37:33 AM EST
    When an innocent person goes to prison it is a tragedy for society as well as for the wrongfully convicted and his family. His life is ruined, taxpayers pay for his upkeep and the real criminal is still at large.

    In addition - it cast's into doubt the credibility of the entire criminal justice system.

    Can you imagine... (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by kdog on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 07:55:31 AM EST
    losing your 19-54 years in a house of horrors?

    Some perspective...when this innocent man was thrown into the house of horrors, everybody was still listening to records, no cable tv, no cellphones...not even cordless phones. Were they all still rotary? Watergate and Patty Hearst were in the headlines.  Steve Miller released "The Joker", "Godfather II" won best picture.  And I wasn't even born yet...damn.

    But fear not, I'm sure diogenes will be along any moment to tell us about all the bad stuff he musta done but never got caught...massage our guilt.

    Not born yet?? (none / 0) (#15)
    by MKS on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 12:42:51 PM EST
    And, I remember watching Watergate live on t.v....It was quite a saga....

    Sam Nunn and Howard Baker were celebs....John Dean didn't have white hair but otherwise looked the same...


    Basically they (none / 0) (#19)
    by Socraticsilence on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 01:08:00 PM EST
    cut out the best years of his life- he had single year as an adult-- then was thrown in the system for the entire prime of his life-- how is he not entitled to a million a year-- in fact I think we need to start that as a program it'll make prosecutors more hesistant-- every you do unjustly-- that's a million bucks (at the very least have a year equal the annual salary of the states highest paid employee).

    A million a year at least... (none / 0) (#20)
    by kdog on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 01:21:52 PM EST
    but even that won't deter a shady prosecutor, its all somebody elses money to them...the only way to slow the shredder down is maybe hold them personally civil and/or criminally liable for wrongful prosecution.

    For example, a murderer is not convicted and goes out and murders again. What's the state payout to the victim's kids, wife, etc.?

    That's not the state's fault.... (none / 0) (#24)
    by kdog on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 01:42:25 PM EST
    imo, considering our cj system is designed to allow the guilty to go free in order to avoid the very scenario that was the topic of the post.

    That being said...court ordered restitution to victims is a possibility, not that any dollar amount can make up for a loved one murdered or raped...or years of wrongful imprisonment.


    Wait a minute... (none / 0) (#23)
    by jbindc on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 01:39:19 PM EST
    There's nothing to indicate this was a shady prsoecution.  It wasn't an "faulty eye-witness"  account - it was the victim of the crime who picked him out of a line-up.

    And for the record, the State Attorney joined in the motion to have the DNA retested which eventually set Bain free. Even the PD agreed:

    "The really good thing about this is the State Attorney is joined in a motion saying Bain is actually innocent," said public defender Marion Moorman.

    Point taken.... (none / 0) (#25)
    by kdog on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 01:46:11 PM EST
    I was talking generally there...did not mean to imply any shadyness to this particular prosecutor...this sounds like a general system failure.

    is the exception to Diogenes Theorem? (1.00 / 0) (#42)
    by diogenes on Fri Dec 18, 2009 at 06:03:16 AM EST
    I can't tell from the articles--was this a guy who was a Sunday School teacher type who the police put on a lineup card because he lived around there and who got wrongfully convicted, or did he have priors of some sort, not that they would have earned him 30 years in prison?  Maybe once in a while the theorem is wrong; I'll keep a log.

    This real life happening hurts my heart (none / 0) (#3)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 08:43:41 AM EST
    I do hope he gets home for Christmas and I'm so happy that his family is able to provide for him in the way that they have.

    Awful (none / 0) (#4)
    by DancingOpossum on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 09:07:59 AM EST
    I think one really big reason for these wrongful convictions is the dearth of funding for legal aid to the poor and middle class (who increasingly have to use free legal services as well). Public defenders are overworked, underpaid, handed cases with little to no time to really work on them, don't have the time or money to hire investigators...and so on. Bain's family said they wished they could have afforded a private lawyer, but sheesh, a homicide defense would have run into huge sums and the family is clearly poor.

    Probably right... (none / 0) (#5)
    by kdog on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 09:13:50 AM EST
    I'd love to see the public defenders offices receive equal funding to the DA offices in every jurisdiction...don't our concepts of justice and equality under the law actually demand it?

    It would be so interesting to see a (none / 0) (#6)
    by Inspector Gadget on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 09:50:46 AM EST
    study of the prosecutors who get the convictions against innocent people.

    The ones I recall in my jurisdiction had greater ambitions, mostly political, and used their win records (particularly on highly publicized cased) to boost their worthiness.


    I think that describes most prosecutors in (none / 0) (#16)
    by MKS on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 12:44:58 PM EST
    SoCal.....Rich kids who go to law school to futher political ambitions, and since money is no object, a public salary is just fine....

    What about Kardashian? (none / 0) (#43)
    by diogenes on Fri Dec 18, 2009 at 10:25:49 PM EST
    And I suppose Robert Kardashian and Jeralyn represent guilty folks not for money or ambition but out of the goodness of their hearts?

    No, because not (none / 0) (#8)
    by me only on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 11:54:01 AM EST
    all defendants use the public defenders office. How much did OJ spend defending himself?  The DA office is charged with deciding to prosecute, so it spends some money on cases that it never prosecutes.

    70 years ago there were no public defenders.  For over 150 years the country didn't even pay for a lawyer.  


    Even better... (none / 0) (#9)
    by kdog on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 11:56:44 AM EST
    maybe the poor will get a defense more in line with the rich...equality under the law.

    Wasn't that championed (none / 0) (#12)
    by me only on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 12:26:24 PM EST
    by a Mass. Senator that used his family's money and his political status to need get prosecuted?  I guess he was against equal justice before he was for equal justice.

    Don't know... (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by kdog on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 01:07:42 PM EST
    but you won't find a defense of liberal elite hypocrisy from me if thats what you're looking for.  My belief in criminal justice inequality and prosecutorial advantage over poor and middle class defendents, and how it can be rectified, has nothing to do with politicians.

    I wasn't looking for you to defend it, (none / 0) (#26)
    by me only on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 01:51:43 PM EST
    just pointing out that people with political influence are still going to get preference over the regular folks even if you spend more money on legal defense.

    Until you remove the exclusion principal justice isn't going to happen.  (Funny how we try to teach our children two wrongs don't make a right, but lawyers think it does.)


    Probably right... (none / 0) (#27)
    by kdog on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 02:05:21 PM EST
    no matter what the place is always gonna look like "Animal Farm", with some animals more equal than others...but if we can get the proles a little closer to equal footing with the party members, it will be an improvement.  

    Truly blind and equal justice is probably impossible for fallible human beings...but we can try to get a little closer to our supposed ideals.


    But each incemental step (none / 0) (#28)
    by me only on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 02:37:52 PM EST
    costs more and more money.

    The first 80% usually costs like 20% of the total.  The last 20% costs the other 80%.  At some point it is not worth the cost to try to make the system more equal.  The resources could be better spent somewhere else.


    Gotta disgree there... (none / 0) (#29)
    by kdog on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 02:55:11 PM EST
    I'm hard pressed to think of a better allocation of funds...if you have a dollar to give to the DA, you have a dollar to give to the public defender...and if ya don't, don't give the dollar to the DA.

    With beyond-surreal amounts (none / 0) (#30)
    by jondee on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 03:16:32 PM EST
    of $ going to shore up our imperial "interests" overseas -- almost assuring that at some point in the future we'll be nuked for our efforts -- to quibble about the imagined amounts it would cost to give the citizenry a sense they live in a land that places a premium on equal rights and justice is grotesque.

    Education, feeding people, (none / 0) (#31)
    by me only on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 03:49:18 PM EST
    drug rehab programs would all be much better uses of our money.

    This is the 11th person released from Florida.  245 nationally.  We are turning out millions of illiterate high school seniors every year.  So, yeah, I can think of better ways to spend our money than giving it to a lawyer than is more interested in finding people not guilty rather than worried about clients being innocent.

    If something happened to my family, I wouldn't trust the system to handle it, and that isn't because of the prosecution.


    Except (none / 0) (#32)
    by jbindc on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 04:02:09 PM EST
    You miss the point entirely.  Our system is not based on finding anyone innocent. No one is ever "found innocent".  The prosecution (The People) is/are not held to the impossible standard of finding someone guilty "beyond any doubt", they are held to the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt", which doesn't necessarily mean the defendant isn't guilty of the crime.

    Except there are many times (none / 0) (#33)
    by me only on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 04:14:04 PM EST
    that the person is guilty and there is plenty of evidence of them being guilty and someone (the judge) rules the evidence inadmissable.

    Yes, that's true (none / 0) (#34)
    by jbindc on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 04:23:10 PM EST
    There are rules of evidence that lawyers must abide by, and that's one of the functions of a judge - to make these kinds of rulings.  Since this is a criminal defense blog, we don't ever have posts about how many times guilty people go free because of things like evidence not being able to be introduced because of judges and defense attorneys colluding, or judges who are overly sympathetic to defendants' rights and try to block the state at every turn.  That's ok - since it is a criminal defense blog, I get that.

    Is it fair that sometimes victims don't get justice (see:  OJ Simpson)?  No. But that's the way our system works.  Is it perfect?  No, but there really isn't a better way.


    Sure there is (none / 0) (#35)
    by me only on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 04:32:23 PM EST
    judges created the immunity that allows inadmissible evidence.  Not the constitution or the legislature.  We let the judge decide if the cops or prosecution made a mistake.  Fine, let the cops or the prosecution stand trial for those mistakes.  Don't nullify the evidence.  The criminal is still a criminal.  As I said, two wrongs (criminal and prosecution) don't make a right (everybody getting away with it).

    Actually, that's not true (none / 0) (#37)
    by jbindc on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 07:43:18 PM EST
    The Federal Rules of Evidence (and subsequently, each state's rules of evidence which are based on the Federal Rules) are set forth by statute - meaning they are established by Congress.

    From Wiki

    Even though the Federal Rules of Evidence are statutory, the Supreme Court is empowered to amend the Rules, subject to Congressional disapproval. However, amendments creating, abolishing, or modifying privileges require affirmative approval by Congress under 28 U.S.C. § 1074.

    Now, judges have broad discretion to interpret these rules, based on case law and other statutes, but the basic rules are not "judge created immunity."


    Correction (none / 0) (#38)
    by jbindc on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 07:45:37 PM EST
    Each state is free to adopt their own rules of evidence, but most adopt the basic language of the federal rules, and are closely modeled after the federal rules, and as such are set out by the state legislatures.

    Or (none / 0) (#39)
    by jbindc on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 07:46:48 PM EST
    some states have the Supreme Court set the rules of evidence, but again, they are based on the federal rules, which are statutory in nature.

    And (none / 0) (#40)
    by jbindc on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 07:52:09 PM EST
    As far as "letting the cops and prosecutors stand trial for their mistakes"...that is very difficult because, as government employees, they enjoy a governmental immunity from prosecution in most cases if they are "Acting under the color of law" (which means when they are carrying out their official duties or they act in a manner to seem as if they are.)

    Scribe had a nice posting about this here at TL a couple of years ago.


    Should be on trial for mistakes (none / 0) (#41)
    by nyjets on Fri Dec 18, 2009 at 05:58:56 AM EST
    If a police office or prosector breaks the law, he/she should stand trial for what they did.
    However, honest mistakes are not grounds for criminal charges. At most I beleive it would be a civil matter.
    Think along the lines of a doctor who makes a mistake and kills a patient. There was no intent to break the law so criminal charges are filed. However, the doctor can be sued for malpractice.

    Sure (none / 0) (#7)
    by DancingOpossum on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 10:10:36 AM EST
    I think there's a lot of pressure on DAs, and on cops, to close cases, and to bolster their resume's with a lot of convictions.

    I like kdog's idea of funding prosecutors and public defenders offices equally. A pipe dream, though, I'm afraid.  

    Doesn't always work that way (none / 0) (#11)
    by jbindc on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 12:17:03 PM EST
    I worked for a judge as a court clerk in Oakland County, Michigan (outside Detroit). It's a pretty rich county. There's no such thing as a "public defender's office" - lawyers (usually solo practioners) are on a list with the county and placed in a "tier", depending on their experience and trial hours, with Tier IV being the ones who handled things like murder, rape, armed robbery, etc.  They were paid by the county, yes, for those who claimed they were indigent, but I have to tell you, many on that list were some of the best attorneys around (several were former prosecutors who decided to go out on their own).  I know if I'd ever gotten in trouble, I would have called one of them.

    Distorted picture (none / 0) (#17)
    by MKS on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 12:48:16 PM EST
    That is not the way it works in SoCal.  The Public Defenders often have offices inside the courthouse.  They often meet their clients for the first time in the courtroom.

    The PDs are generally good attorneys here but they have too many cases....

    You paint a too rosy scenario.  


    My own experience (none / 0) (#21)
    by jbindc on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 01:28:35 PM EST
    The lawyers I'm talking about who get appointed may have lots of cases, but many of them are because they show up on criminal call day and get themselves appointed.  If they are overworked, it's usually due to their own overreaching.

    And it didn't say it was rosy - just that not all indigent defendants are defended by the type of PD's portrayed on TV....


    His first request for DNA (none / 0) (#10)
    by Chuck0 on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 12:13:07 PM EST
    testing was denied. I have to wonder if this was due to objections by prosecutors. I would also like to know to what lengths did prosecutors go to prevent this man from establishing his innocence. Why is it that prosecutors so fear the truth?

    Many times DNA alone isn't enough to (none / 0) (#14)
    by me only on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 12:31:13 PM EST
    prove anything.  It is just used to get a new trial.  The prosecution in those cases is just trying to avoid retrying a case.

    Obviously this case is different.  When a rape is committed and the rapist leaves behind DNA, then lacking a DNA match is pretty much proof on innocence.  Not all cases are this clear cut and the DA's almost reflexively oppose re-opening old cases.


    Jury convicted him anyway (none / 0) (#13)
    by vicndabx on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 12:28:40 PM EST
    mistaken eye-witness evidence was a chief cause of his wrongful conviction

    I remember a jury I served on where everyone was more focused on getting out of there than actually performing their civic duty to the best of their ability.  Folks were bringing all kinds of baggage from their own past criminal experiences in as well.  Major evidence in that case was eye-witness testimony from some "who couldn't be sure."  Not guilty was the verdict in that case.  We need to have higher standards when it comes to the choices we make w/r/t someone's life.

    I know if I was this guy, somebody would be paying me.

    Could had been set free a long time ago! (none / 0) (#36)
    by edmundot on Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 04:58:21 PM EST
    God bles Mr Bain for his great patient and temper!

    Please, read Romans 12:19 and Hebrews 10:30

    Although 99.9% of human DNA sequences are the same in every person, enough of the DNA is different to distinguish one individual from another.

    Due to that detail, Is very very difficult to accept how come there are not enough efforts and resources dedicated to
    not only convict somebody who is guilty but to exonerate those who are innocent as well.

    The DNA Identification Act of 1994 provided most of the legislation to use forensic DNA analysis to stablish when somebody
    is guilty or inocent through the coolaboration of federal, state and local laboratores entities.

    The Act addresses the question of DNA identification, and makes amendments to the Criminal Code and other Acts.
    Its purpose is twofold: to establish a national DNA databank; and to assist law enforcement agencies in identifying individuals
    alleged to have committed particular offences, including those committed before the coming into force of this Act.

    All 50 states have laws requiring that DNA profiles of certain offenders be sent to CODIS.

    There is a missing point(s) in the law, which doesn't allow all the entities to work for those
    who are innocent instead of only focusing in the conviction of those who are guilty and that
    is what need to be fixed.

    In March 2003 President Bush proposed $1 billion in funding over 5 years to reduce the DNA testing backlog
    but that is only small amount of all efforts needed for this cause.

    If the right efforts were in place, this man could had been set free at least since 1995, 15 year of life!