Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A New Book, A Big Step for Forensics & A Supreme Court Case

Working Together to Prevent Injustice

The trail of an unlikely friendship between Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson-Cannino began more than two decades ago, when she misidentified him as the man who raped her. Cotton was wrongfully convicted in 1985 based largely on Thompson-Cannino’s testimony, and he spent 10 years in prison before DNA testing proved his innocence. Today, they are close friends and travel the country speaking about the case and advocating criminal justice reforms especially relating to eyewitness misidentification.

On Tuesday, the two will release a major new book about their experience “Picking Cotton” written with author Erin Torneo. Cotton and Thompson-Cannino’s incredible and inspiring story will be featured on “60 Minutes” and in People Magazine in March.

Late one night in 1984, a man broke into Thompson-Cannino’s home and raped her at knifepoint. During the attack, she focused on studying the attacker’s features so she could identify him later. After the assault, she worked with police to create a composite sketch and would eventually identify Ronald Cotton in a lineup as the perpetrator. She was 100% sure it was him, she says, and was happy and relieved the day he was sentenced to life in prison. There was only one problem: she had the wrong man.

More than a decade later, DNA testing in the case proved Cotton’s innocence and implicated another man in the rape. Thompson-Cannino was shocked at the news. She couldn’t believe that she had chosen the wrong man and that her misidentification had played a role in such an injustice. Two years later, however, the two met face-to-face. They both had come to know that eyewitness misidentification is a common cause of wrongful convictions, and they agreed to work together prevent misidentifications and injustice. The new book tells the story of the case, Cotton’s exoneration and the unlikely friendship it sparked.

Visit the Innocence Blog to preorder a copy of the book (with a portion of proceeds going to the Innocence Project) and to watch a video of Thompson-Cannino and Cotton telling their stories.

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