Monday, June 18, 2012
Late 1800’s Texas rape case likely convicted innocent man
The racially-charged case began around Juneteenth, the anniversary of slaves' freedom.
At Dallas News, Diane Jennings and Selwyn Crawford have begun a fascinating series on an 1892 case in which a young black man was accused of rape, nearly lynched, then sentenced to death and executed, but was probably innocent. "Although he did not match the victim's description and had an alibi," reported the News, "she picked him in a lineup." See 1892 newspaper accounts of the mob's attempt to lynch Isaac Bruce, and a timeline of the case.
Noted the reporters, "Across the United States, 1892 was the peak year for lynching, according to archives from the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. At least 230 people were murdered by mobs that year." Indeed, "Months after Isaac Bruce faced a lynch mob in Hillsboro, a crowd in Paris, Texas, watched vigilantes prepare a platform for Henry Smith, a black man accused of killing a 3-year-old white girl. Before he could be tried in 1893, he was tortured with hot irons, doused with oil and burned to death. The lynching drew a crowd of 10,000 people."
The eyewitness identification aspect gives the story modern currency, demonstrating that some contributing factors to injustice in the past -- including racially charged injustices -- remain with us long after the lynch mobs subsided. This is a historical example of cross-racial eyewitness identification where the suspect failed to match the original witness description, and in an era when whites and blacks mingled precious little: We've seen basically the same set of facts play out repeatedly among DNA exonerees, with faulty eyewitness identifications accounting for the majority of those exonerated by DNA. And though literal lynch mobs have become a thing of the past, the lynch-mob mentality continues to exist and pandering to it exacerbates the type of rush-to-judgment and tunnel-vision errors which have contributed to so many modern false convictions.
Pegasus News Content partner - Grits For Breakfast