After Innocence

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Though attorneys Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld will always be associated with the O.J. Simpson case, the two co-founded the Innocence Project way before they joined the so-called Dream Team. Since the advent of incontrovertible DNA evidence, their non-profit legal clinic has dedicated itself to freeing unfairly convicted felons, like Eddie Joe Floyd, a man exonerated after spending 17 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit.

Unfortunately, Eddie Joe, who is among the people profiled in After Innocence, died of heart disease in 2004, just two years after his release at the age of 56. One of the most memorable scenes of the movie features Mr. Floyd shortly before his death, lobbying for the widespread use of DNA, suggesting emphatically that, “God’s signature is never a forgery. And his checks don’t bounce.�

After Innocence is essentially 10 different stories, each a tragic case of mistaken identity. Every single one of these men can thank their lucky stars that evidence was preserved, otherwise they’d still be in jail. Herman Atkins had been sentenced to 45 years for rape and robbery despite having an alibi and no previous criminal record. In the film, his father, a cop, admits that he now regrets never visiting his son even once during his 11 year incarceration, explaining that, as an officer of the law, he had believed in the justice system. Today, Herman is in college, pursuing a graduate degree in psychology.

Scott Hornoff was a police officer when he found himself arrested for murder. Although he sat on Death Row for over six years till his conviction was overturned, the State of Rhode Island refuses to pay him any damages or back pay. A common theme running through each of the frightening tales told here is that none of the victims have been compensated for the ordeals they had to endure.

Without money to get back on their feet, they find themselves ill-equipped to cope in a world which has moved on without them. We also see the toll that the time in jail has taken on their families, with wives having to work and raise children alone, kids feeling alienated, and some parents not living long enough to see a son’s name cleared before they passed on.

One mother wonders why the jury had so callously dismissed her passionate testimony, under oath, that her boy had been with her at the time that the crime had been committed. Meanwhile, one contrite victim tries to explain away her regrettable mistake by placing, side-by-side, pictures of the man she had misidentified and of her recently-apprehended actual rapist.
By shining a scientific spotlight on the criminal justice system’s dirty little secret, After Innocence leaves no doubt that thousands of other wrongly-imprisoned persons are currently rotting away behind bars, with only the money to afford a Dream Team and a DNA test standing between them and their freedom.

Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 95 minutes
Distributor: New Yorker Films

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