News 12.29.16

Why I Give

By Debbie King

 

debbie at Kimbro's

Debbie King
Performing Songwriter
Chattanooga, Tennesee

I first learned about DNA while studying to become a Registered Nurse. A few years later I read that an individual’s DNA could be identified from a sample. I remember thinking that this development was going to be huge. I had no idea just how huge it would become. A short time later I read about the IP using DNA to exonerate innocent people who had been convicted of crimes.

Like many people, I couldn’t understand why police, prosecutors and others in the legal system seemed to fight tooth and nail to avoid even looking into the possibility of an innocent person being convicted of a crime. As I read of more and more examples of this, it infuriated me. Especially after reading of police or prosecutor misconduct, or just plain sloppy police work.

As a teenager, I learned through family lore of an ancestor on my mother’s side who had been “hanged by mistake.” Her name was Margaret (Maggie) Houghtaling, and she was hanged by the state of New York in 1817. A few years ago I Googled her, and learned that another young woman had confessed to the crime she’d been convicted of, the murder of a child, after Maggie had been hanged. Apparently she and Maggie had been rivals in a love triangle, and the rival poisoned the child, Lewis Spencer, knowing that Maggie would be blamed. Later, unable to live with herself, she came forward. The authorities apparently ignored the confession, not wanting to admit they’d made a terrible mistake. (Sounds familiar?) I’ve found variations on the details of the story, but they all agree that Maggie was falsely accused, convicted, hanged, then exonerated–at least, in popular opinion–after the real perpetrator came forward.

I began supporting the IP several years ago after seeing the large number of prisoners who had been exonerated. These people also are victims of crime. Meanwhile, the real perpetrators remain free to kill or rape again. I would encourage anyone thinking of supporting the IP to ask themselves: If it could happen to these innocent, usually poor, politically unconnected people such as Maggie Houghtaling, could it happen to them? Or to someone they love? If we don’t help them, who will? Certainly not the Justice System.

 

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  1. Your story is a powerful one, and you tell it so well. Thank you for sharing what surely must have been a nightmare for your ancestor, Maggie Houghtaling. And thank you for supporting such an important cause as the Innocence Project. Best to you in 2017!

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