If God forbid, one of your loved ones was killed by another human being, would you want the true killer to be brought to justice? Or would you settle for someone who the government says is the perpetrator but is actually innocent?
The choice might seem obvious, but in reality, the families of murder victims often get stuck with the second option. And, what is even more heartbreaking, is that they are, many times, unaware that they are stuck with it. Because prosecutors and police operate with a convict first ask questions later mentality, many victim families are tricked into believing a certain version of events simply because the police told them so.
A recent case serves to illustrate this point.
On Friday, February 19th. Albert Woodfox was released from Lousiana State Penitentiary after spending 45 years of his life there, mostly in solitary confinement. His release was contingent on a pleas deal in which Mr. Woodfox pleaded no contest to charges of manslaughter and aggravated burglary in the 1972 homicide of a corrections officer named Brent Miller. Mr. Miller, who was 23 at the time, was found stabbed 32 times in the penitentiary on the morning of April 14th. 1972. Based almost entirely on eyewitness testimony of other inmates, Mr. Woodfox was charged with the crime along with another of his fellow inmates.
“Do I believe he did it?…Hell yeah, I believe he did it” said Stan A. Miller, one of the victim’s brothers. A major reason why Stan Miller believed that Mr. Woodfox killed his brother is because of an eyewitness account given by Leonard Turner who stated that he saw Mr. Woodfox commit the crime.
But the trouble with eyewitnesses is that they sometimes lie. As early as 1998, Mr. Turner completely changed his story and testified that he had actually not seen the murder. Then, in 2002, Mr. Turner flip-flopped again and said that he had seen the murder but that he knew “for an absolute fact” that Mr. Woodfox was not involved. Mr. Turner is just one of the many problematic witnesses in the case against Mr. Woodfox, some of who were given incentives by the State to testify against Mr. Woodfox.
Despite the numerous inconsistencies in the eye witness accounts and the complete lack of any forensic evidence against Mr. Woodfox, the victim’s family refuses to believe that Mr. Woodfox is innocent of the killing. Though JusticeIQ is not in any position to conclude whether Mr. Woodfox is innocent of the crimes he was charged with, it is clear that the accusation and evidence against him were completely flawed and has been disputed. In other words, there are serious doubts about Mr. Woodfox’s guilt, so much so, that now the victim’s widow has come to doubt whether Mr. Woodfox did it.
If Mr. Woodfox is innocent, which seems more likely than not, then the State has effectively lied to the victim’s family. This is a shame for a number of reasons. Most obviously, Mr. Miller’s family will never achieve any type of closure given the possibility that Mr. Miller’s real killer has escaped justice. Secondly, his family has erroneously directed their anger at the person who wasn’t responsible for the murder. These negative consequences are in addition to the possibility that Mr. Woodfox’s life was stolen from him without just cause. It also means that the true perpetrator may have had the opportunity to kill again – destroying another family’s life in the process.
The point in all this is that the State has an obligation to get it right not only to bring justice to the victims, but also to bring closure to the victim’s families. By focusing on racking up wins in the courtroom instead of pursuing the truth when it comes to crime fighting, prosecutors and police do more harm than good.
Unfortunately, most people believe what the police tell them even if their fabricated version of events is disproven decades later. For every wrongful conviction following a murder there is an innocent person whose life is ruined, a killer left free to kill again, and an angry and confused family whose wounds are reopened when they come to be told that their loved one’s alleged killer is actually innocent.
“They lied to us”, said Stan Miller, the victim’s brother, after finding out that Mr. Woodfox was released after the plea deal. Even though the deal technically counts as a conviction, it is not an admission of guilt by Mr. Woodfox.
Perhaps one day, the guilty will be brought to justice – both for Brent Miller and his family.
See article: “For 45 years in Prison, Louisiana Man Kept Calm and Held Fast to Hope” by Campbell Robertson.