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Rodney Lincoln Case Reveals Flaws in Our System

If the public really understood how hard it was to get an innocent man freed from a wrongful conviction, they would be appalled. Exoneration seems easy on TV shows (or even on the TV news). We like to believe that when new evidence is discovered, the prosecutor magnanimously admits their mistake, and the accused is released the next day. The unfortunate reality is that our system is set up to never admit its mistakes, and a prosecutor and a small-minded judge will fight an exoneration every step of the way, even when it is clear they were wrong.

Rodney Lincoln innocent

An example of this is the Rodney Lincoln case. Rodney Lincoln was convicted of the murder of a woman and the stabbing assault of her two young daughters. One of the girls was assaulted, and a hair was found on her private area. Using 1980's technology, the prosecutor's expert testified that the hair "matched" the defendant. Predictably, Rodney Lincoln was convicted. However, later in 2010, DNA testing was performed, and it was proven that this hair was NOT Rodney Lincoln's. There should be an exoneration, right? Or a new trial? In fact, the prosecutor opposed a new trial, arguing that the matching of the hair really wasn't that significant after all.

When a person is wrongfully convicted of a crime, sometimes it is hard for the public (and the media) to support a new trial when the case involves particularly disturbing facts, like an injury to a child. We have seen that with the Jeffrey Havard case. Such was the case too with Rodney Lincoln. It is simply hard for your average person to deal with the disturbing facts of an assault on a child. Therefor it is easier for the public to just ignore the injustice. And if the public cannot face the facts of a case, then neither can the media. And without the public pressure on the prosecuting attorney, he will simply do the "safe" thing, i.e. try to uphold the conviction.

Why won't the prosecutor do what is right? Unfortunately, prosecutors simply do what is politically expedient. Prosecutors are elected officials in Missouri. There is simply too much pressure on elected officials to lock up the "bad guy" and keep the community "safe." Many prosecutor forget the role of the prosecutor is not just to seek convictions (or maintain convictions), but to seek justice. As Justice Jackston stated:

The qualities of a good prosecutor are as elusive and as impossible to define as those which mark a gentleman. And those who need to be told would not understand it anyway. A sensitiveness to fair play and sportsmanship is perhaps the best protection against the abuse of power, and the citizen's safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility.
Unfortunately, few prosecuting attorneys live up to this standard as set forth by Justice Jackson.