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Prosecutor: “…we convicted the wrong guy, and that’s terrifying,”

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In a recent editorial in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Linda Campbell profiled the case of a prosecutor who did everything right, but still wound up sending an innocent man to prison.

According to Campbell’s report, Brooks Harrington, an ordained minister and attorney who has spent most of his career either in criminal defense or providing legal service to the poor, started his career as an assistant U.S. attorney. During this time he prosecuted the case of Donald Eugene Gates, who was convicted of the murder and rape of a Georgetown University student.

But, despite Harrington’s thorough and ethical prosecution, new DNA testing has proved that Gates was innocent. Harrington’s case had relied on an FBI analyst’s testimony (which turns out to have been faulty) as well as paid informant testimony. Harrington had thought he had approached the informant with appropriate skepticism, and had even taken extra time to determine if the man’s story made sense. Now, in light of the new evidence of Gates’ innocence, Harrington has had his faith in the system shaken.

“Everybody did their best, and we convicted the wrong guy, and that’s terrifying,” said Harrington.

Gates’ case is sobering example of the problems that can exist within our justice system. Often, we blame overzealous or careless district attorneys or police investigators for wrongful convictions, but sometimes even the best prosecutors can make mistakes. In a system where justice is administered by humans, human error will be ever present. And while the elimination of these errors is nearly impossible, we are still capable of making changes to help reduce the chances that a mistake is made, and to quickly correct the errors that have already occurred.

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