Alan Newton: Where Is The Justice?

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[Travesty of Justice: Op-Ed]

In a decision that I can only describe as shocking and shameful, Manhattan Federal Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that an $18.5 million award given to a man who spent 22 years in prison for a rape he did not commit doesn't deserve a nickel of that money.

"It is not enough," she said, "to have shown that the city's post trial evidence management system is disorganized."

The man in question is Alan Newton, a recent Medgar Evers College alumnus. He was arrested and convicted for a rape, robbery and assault in 1984 and sentenced to 13 to 40 years inprison. His attorneys repeatedly requested evidence in the possession of the New York City Police Department that could prove his innocence, but according to Newton's attorneys they stonewalled any efforts to clear his name.

Newton was also denied parole three times. Later the Innocence Project took on his case and DNA evidence was found at a Queens warehouse in 2005. When Newton was arrested such technology did not exist. He was exonerated in 2006. In October, he was awarded $18.5 million by a jury to make up for the decades he lost in New York City's penal system.

But despite spending 22 years in prison, the award was tossed out because according to Judge Scheindlin, the city meant no harm. It was "mere negligence."

Where is the justice?

I wish to congratulate all those who worked so hard for so long to get Alan Newton released from prison - the Innocence Project, as well as a raft of attorneys, civic and community leaders, educators. But when an individual is thrown into prison at 22 and released at 44 years of age for a
crime they did not commit - where is the justice?

No amount of money can replace the years of freedom taken away. The missed time with family and friends, the missed opportunities. But a sum of money could go a long way to making the rest of his life much smoother that those 22 years spent behind prison walls. A jury confirmed that
last October.

To his credit, he is not bitter. Newton has gone on to live a productive life. I am proud to say that, funded by the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund, he earned his Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Medgar Evers College. While here, he worked at our College's Male Development and Empowerment Center, which addresses minority male recruitment, retention and graduation issues. He is now employed at City College of New York as a research associate.

According to a published article, when asked what he would do with the money from the award, he replied: "A decent place to live" and "I love paying bills, a sense of purpose again."

I sat next to Alan Newton at a dinner on the night when the City had tossed out his award. He was shocked by the turn of events, but still not bitter. Mostly I listened to what he was saying, thinking about the decision. But I also wanted him to know that those who supported him in the past - as well as many of those who only recently became aware of his plight - would stand with him now.

And we must all stand up to this travesty of justice. The perversion and arrogance of this decision basically puts the City of New York in a position of saying, "my bad," to a man who has lost much of his life.

Where is the justice?

And what message does this send to others who might one day find themselves in a similar position - even if it is "mere negligence?" What does the future hold for them? Will they be eligible for any compensation at all?

And when are we as a society going to realize that when someone is released from prison --whether they were justified in being there or not--that those who are willing and able to participate as productive citizens should be allowed to do so?

Medgar Evers College has been very active in helping enable those formerly incarcerated to gain the means to do so - through education, through job training and counseling resources. Later this month we will be hosting a panel discussion, "Life After Incarceration," at our main campus on
Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn.

This is part of our participation in the COMAlert program. The program was started in 1999 by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes as a bridge between prison and the community for parolees returning to Brooklyn. Participants from his office will be included on the panel.

For Alan Newton it is already too late for total justice. He was denied any efforts to prove his innocence for over two decades. But some measure of justice must be forthcoming. Newton now stands as one of the best among us, with his character and his strength, and his enduring ability to better himself and become a contributing member of society.

He is an individual we should all be proud to say is a neighbor, or friend or fellow New Yorker.
So the question remains: Where is the justice?

Dr. William L. Pollard is President of Medgar Evers College

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