Monday, June 15, 2009
Members of the New York State Senate and Assembly:
Most of us have never written to an elected official before, and we never thought we would need to. We are writing to you today because you have the opportunity, in the days and weeks ahead, to repair our state’s criminal justice system – and because we believe we have an important perspective to share with you.
Our loved ones were convicted of heinous crimes they did not commit. They are our brothers, sons, fathers, uncles, husbands and boyfriends. Each one proclaimed his innocence but was convicted anyway, and each one was sentenced to decades in prison. After serving years in prison for crimes they did not commit, they were all exonerated with DNA testing. Once they won their freedom, they began to rebuild their lives. They went through an experience nobody else can imagine, and they are forever changed by it – and so are we, their families.
We missed birthdays and holidays with our loved ones, but we also missed them on ordinary, unremarkable days. Some of us struggled to make ends meet without them; some of us spent years scraping together money to help with their appeals, only to lose. When coworkers or acquaintances asked about our loved ones, we tried to explain they were innocent – but all anyone heard was that they were in prison.
When DNA testing finally proved their innocence, we were overjoyed. Too often, freedom didn’t end their struggles. Having survived a unique and lengthy trauma, many of them came home with nightmares, uncertainty and fear. They received no immediate financial compensation or social services.
But we got our loved ones back. For all of the hardship, we know how lucky we are. Now we feel a duty to speak out on behalf of all the other families whose loved ones are wrongfully incarcerated – or may be wrongfully convicted in the future – and ask you to pass reforms this month to improve New York’s criminal justice system.
We ask you to pass a package of reforms that includes improving lineups and other eyewitness identification procedures statewide, requiring that interrogations in felony cases be recorded, and strengthening the quality of scientific evidence. These reforms should also make it easier to get DNA testing when it can prove innocence, create systems for preserving evidence in criminal cases, and provide adequate, immediate compensation to people when they are exonerated.
These reforms will not do much to help our family members who have already been exonerated. They will help other families, though. They will help families of crime victims, who do not see justice when the wrong person is convicted. They will protect public safety by helping apprehend actual criminals, instead of innocent people. These reforms will help families who might otherwise face what we did – and have their lives shattered by a wrongful conviction.
We are grateful for the opportunity to share our perspective with you, and we hope you will take swift action to make New York’s criminal justice system more fair, accurate and reliable.
Sylvia Barnes Bouchard
Jo Ann Prestia
Billie Jo Kuczynski
Also in New York State:
Stefan Kuczynski Jr.
Wayne Brown Jr.