By PAUL M.
Charles Fain was released from prison in Idaho on Aug. 23 after nearly 18 years on death row. DNA tests proved that he wasn’t responsible for the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl, for which he was convicted in 1982.
The tests were performed on three hairs found on the clothing of the victim. At Fain’s trial an FBI specialist testified that the hairs matched Fain’s. But in June 2001, when the hairs were subjected to DNA tests at a Virginia laboratory, the results demonstrated conclusively that they could not have come from Fain.
Charles Fain was the 11th death row inmate to be exonerated by DNA evidence over the last decade.
Fain’s trial is typical of the way people are convicted of crimes in this society. Key evidence used against him was the testimony of two jailhouse snitches who said that Fain told them he had committed the crime. We now know that their testimony was a lie, concocted in order to receive favorable treatment from the state.
It is a common practice for prosecutors to use snitches to win their cases. Prisoners are offered special treatment if they provide information about someone else. A person facing a long prison sentence will often be willing to tell the prosecution what it wants to hear.
Ricky Chilton, one of the informers against Fain, was facing 230 years on various charges, but was released after only three years following his deal with the state. Chilton originally stated that he was threatened by the prosecution to testify.
The jury never heard certain evidence of Fain’s innocence that existed at the time of the trial. The prosecution objected to introducing into evidence the results of a lie detector test, which Fain had passed, and the judge agreed.
The state can apologize today for making a mistake, but nothing can compensate for the 18 years of imprisonment and fear of death that Charles Fain endured.
“This case demonstrates that those who presuppose that only the guilty get the death penalty are wrong,” stated D. Frederick Hoopes, one of Fain’s attorneys.
There are many more cases like Charles Fain’s. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, at least 96 innocent death row inmates have been exonerated and released in 22 states. How many innocent people are still languishing on death rows across America because of police and prosecution frame-ups, racist courts, and inadequate court-appointed attorneys? How many people have already been killed because of them?
The state has blood on its hands. We can’t let it continue.