Mar 12, 2009

Ricardo Rachell: The Crimnal Injustice System in a Nutshell

Ricardo Rachell was released from a Texas prison in December 2008 after serving more than 5 years in prison for the rape of a child that he didn't commit.  Rachell's tragic story provides a snapshot of the common ills that afflict our criminal justice system and that I have discussed in earlier blog entries.

  1. Rachell was convicted largely on the basis of mistaken eyewitness identifications made by the 8-year-old male victim and his friend. More than any other factor, mistaken eyewitness identifications are the leading cause of wrongful convictions. Amazingly, the boys were believed even though Rachell's face is terribly disfigured from a shotgun blast he had suffered years earlier, and the boys initially failed to mention anything unusual about the attacker's face to the police. 
  2. DNA testing of physical evidence proved that Rachell did not commit the crime.  However, even though the evidence was available for testing shortly after the crime took place in 2002, it wasn't tested until 2008. The prosecutor claims that the defense trial lawyer should have requested DNA testing; the defense lawyer claims that he didn't know that physical evidence was available for testing; and the incompetent DNA lab was closed down around the time Rachell was convicted anyway.
  3. Pat Lykos, the current District Attorney of Harris County, Texas (where Rachell was convicted) blames the prosecutors, the defense lawyers, the police, and the crime lab for the wrongful conviction.  But even if Lykos had 10 hands, she probably wouldn't have enough fingers to point at the causes of this injustice.