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The worst feeling in the world

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Hope you're right, Nick.

Hope you're right, Nick.

Hopefully time will tell whether Troy Davis, the American prisoner executed in Georgia last week, was actually guilty of the murder he was accused of.

For everyone's sake I hope he was.

I'm not a believer in the death penalty and, even if Davis did pull the trigger of the gun that killed 27-year-old off-duty cop Mark MacPhail in 1989, I know there are other, better ways ways to punish people for such crimes.

However, this is not a post about the death penalty.

Suffice it to say, I think beliefs about capital punishment are tied unerringly to whether people think man can evolve into a more humane, enlightened being or whether we remain tethered to our brutal past. I choose to believe the former.

As I reflected on Davis's execution last week, I thought of the words of a friend, El Guapo, who once talked to me of what he considered would be the worst feeling on earth: being accused of a crime you did not commit.

"It must be terrible doing something horrific and then being hated by the public and the media and having to bear all that guilt - but imagine having to go through it and it wasn't you who did it," El Guapo said.

We'd been discussing the case of Giovanni Ramirez, a convicted felon who'd been wrongly accused of beating a San Francisco Giants fan close to death at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles in March this year.

The case drew massive publicity in the US because the injured fan, Bryan Stow, was a law-biding paramedic with two kids and Ramirez was a tattooed former gang member.

Stow is unlikely to fully recover, having just come out of an induced coma; he has suffered major brain damage and is still battling serious medical complications. His life has been ruined.

Thing is, Giovanni Ramirez didn't do it. He was at an uncle's BBQ and has now been exonerated, although he's still in jail because of a parole violation - the cops found a gun at his house when they wrongly arrested him for Stow's bashing.

Ramirez is no saint, but it surely must have sucked the big one having half the US calling for your jailing and/or death because you just happened to have a similar neck tattoo to the grubs now alleged to have beaten Stow.

Closer to home, we've recently seen independent Senator Nick Xenophon use parliamentary privilege to name Adelaide priest Ian Dempsey as having been accused of rape.

Senator Xenophon said the Catholic Church had failed to stand down Dempsey while investigating allegations he raped the now Archbishop of the Traditional Anglican Communion, John Hepworth, more than 40 years ago.

Dempsey has denied the claims and, if he's telling the truth, I can only imagine what a nightmare he wakes to every morning as he fights to clear his name.

Whether you believe Xenophon did the right thing in naming Dempsey probably has much to do with your faith in the justice system, although, it's pertinent to note claims like the ones he's made against the monsignor often have grave consequences, as we've seen before with politicians who stretch the limits of parliamentary privilege.

In 1996, NSW State Labor MP, Franca Arena named retired judge David Yeldham and former lord mayor of Wollongong Frank Arkell as potential paedophiles.

The accusations were never proved and both Arkell and Yeldham strenuously denied being kiddie fiddlers. Yeldham was subsequently revealed to have been living a "double life" as a homosexual and committed suicide on November 4, 1996.

Arkell was murdered in June 1998, just months before he was to stand trial on 29 sex charges. Police found him with his Rotary pin and other pins jammed into his eyes.

Were they guilty? We'll never know for sure.

Many of you might argue it's insensitive to suggest being wrongly accused of a horrendous crime is a worse feeling than being the victim of a horrendous crime - but from my perspective you can't compare degrees of innocence.

However, with no disrespect to victims of crime, there is usually an enormous wellspring of sympathy and support for them, but not for an accused - even if he is innocent.

WAIROA SPORTSMEN'S LUNCH

If you live in Sydney and would like to help out the incredible Wairoa School in Bondi, read on. Wairoa School provides educational programs for students with moderate to high support needs. Its programs help students with a moderate to severe intellectual disability, who may also have additional support needs related to autism, physical disabilities and/or sensory disabilities.

Today at noon, there will be a fund-raiser and lunch at the Beach Road Hotel in Bondi. Tickets are $75.

To book, email pete@beachroadbondi.com.au or phone Sarah on 9365 45 69. I'll buy you a beer as well.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here.

61 comments so far

  • ... the feeling of helplessness and frustration ... no matter you do or say, you're simply not heard.

    2nd ? When you go out on a limb emotionally and it's not reciprocated. Ouch.

    Commenter
    CityChick
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    September 29, 2011, 7:32PM
    • This post makes feel uncomfortable. Well, any post about sexual offences targeting children makes me feel uncomfortable. The thing is that the Roman Catholic church has managed its problems with paedophiles poorly. Their policies are so geared to protected all priests they leave no room for dealing with false positives.

      Yes, innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt but then again "not guilty" is not the same as innocent. That is what happened to Ramirez. Which is why he is still in jail (on another offence).

      Commenter
      Dumped
      Date and time
      September 29, 2011, 7:55PM
      • The West Memphis 3 have just been released after 18 years in prison for a crime that many, including myself, believe they did not commit. A great injustice through a botched and biased investigation.

        I know that partners have accused me of actions that I have not done and the feeling is terrible. Over a sustained period it made me question everything I did. I would have no idea what it would be like to be accused of something as terrible as a beating or murder that I did not commit. It must be all consuming.

        We leave our trust into judicial systems all over the world that seek justice for the victims and the accused with no idea whether they are true and just in reality. I hope they are. Although the evidence is not always so.

        Commenter
        M
        Location
        The Sanctuary
        Date and time
        September 29, 2011, 8:42PM
        • Well said. "It's better that 100 guilty men should go free than one innocent man convicted." An aphorism from criminal law to explain the standard of proof. Is that right? I'm not sure. I tend to lean toward yes when I imagine the horror of being falsely convicted. But having a close friend whose sister was brutally murdered, the circumstantial evidence pointing strongly at an obvious suspect, I know what the other side of the coin feels like too.

          Commenter
          joncitizen
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          September 29, 2011, 11:37PM
          • Innocent people have been wrongly accused, sometimes convicted,jailed,and even executed ever since there has been people charged with investigating crime and bringing perpetrators to justice.We as a society have the expectation that these investigators uphold the law with determination and integrity. Some of these people investigating crime fulfill this duty to the best of their ability and others it seems fall victim to their own belief that because they have been right about a guilty person in the past that they must be right every time. And they will go to any length to prove themselves right, including planting evidence or beating a confession out of a suspect. Ian Urquhart, who was accused of the murder of Garry Heywood and Abina Madill in1966,while maintaining his innocence, fled the country after numerous police attempts to beat a confession out of him.He died six years later in a car accident in Malasia.His family and friends were subject to gossip and inuendo about his guilt until in 1985 Raymond "Mr Stinky" Edmunds was found guilty through fingerprint evidence after committing another crime. We as a society must understand that although the police may suspect someone guilty it is just that,a suspicion, not a certainty.I think that knowing people believe you are guilty of a crime that you didnt commit is proof that people beleive that you are capable of terrible deeds.This to me is far worse a burden than being guilty and it would take a person of great character and self belief to overcome such accusations without succumbing to the anxiety and depression thatthis would surely bring on. WAtoday has an article on this subject 'Goodbye rough justice' sep 7 2010...its worth a read

            Commenter
            Sir Real
            Location
            la la land
            Date and time
            September 30, 2011, 1:15AM
            • Sorry for going off topic...
              Outright not humble brag to follow: After three weeks in Spain am enjoying a lazy afternoon in Paris and have just caught up on your blogs and I checked out your twitter. Based on this I suggest the following:
              - go to Spain for a couple of weeks
              - spend time in Madrid. Get an apartment with French doors in La Latina so you can write during the day. Drink lots of cheap Rioja at night
              - spend your downtime continuing with Game of Thrones. How awesome is this series, I am on book 3 part 1

              Other comments - I read a small article on how heaps of straight blokes want to shag Tom Brady.
              - the other thing that has made my holiday downtime perfect is watching Sons of Anarchy. Combine that with reading Game of Thrones, seeing mind blowing art works in Madrid and I have had some truly spunout dreams, the Rioja probaly helped as well.
              Bye for now
              -

              Commenter
              JoannaF
              Location
              Paris
              Date and time
              September 30, 2011, 1:47AM
              • Even if he was not guilty of murder, he had done other crimes. I don't really mind if he is executed even if he has committed a serious robbery. Its one less loser in the world. Just don't spend too much on the bullet.

                Commenter
                andrew
                Location
                melbourne
                Date and time
                September 30, 2011, 5:59AM
                • @ Dumped

                  I think you'll find the Church's protocols for dealing with alleged abuses has changed dramatically.

                  It's interesting because for 4 years the Catholic Church has implored the Anglican archbishop to go to the police with his claims as is the current protocol in such matters. But he did not.

                  This bishop also allegedly implored Xenophon not to name the alleged abuser in parliament. And the guy strenously denies any involvement - which is also not usually the case when these individuals are finally caught up with.
                  Very strange indeed.

                  I know that Franca Arena named a number of politicians, judges, doctors and others as paedophiles in the '90's - including a longserving Labour premier and that she was absolutely adamant that she had information that this was true. Given the secret and murky underworld that paedophilia operates in, not enough it seems to gain prosecutions. But the rumours still abound in certain circles. I think she was onto something.

                  Commenter
                  Peter
                  Location
                  Brisbane
                  Date and time
                  September 30, 2011, 7:35AM
                  • Capital punishment is as barbaric as the crimes the accused purportedly committed. I've had people say to me 'but what if someone molested and murdered YOUR daughter?' If someone touched a hair on her head I think I'd be capable of slicing them apart, limb by limb with a rusty razor blade - very slowly. That's why we don't allow members of the family to be part of the decision making process in a civilised society - we recognize that revenge is a great tool for, er, revenge, but not much else.

                    Anyone interested in the topic should read 'Dead Man Walking'. Interestingly, it tends to not change a person's view on Capital Punishment.

                    As to being wrongly accused, I think it's the only situation where I can imagine religious beliefs - in particular a belief in an afterlife - being of benefit. Lindy Chamberlain is a great example of this. Unfortunately for her, her calm demeanour (a consequence of believing that unnecessary suffering in this life would be set her in good stead in the next) worked against her.

                    Commenter
                    bornagirl
                    Location
                    Melbourne
                    Date and time
                    September 30, 2011, 7:45AM
                    • Interesting column today Sam - pretty much agree totally with your point of view.
                      I felt really uncomfortable with Nick Xenophon's actions naming the priest accused of rape - the man is accused not convicted - that is for a court of law to decide and not an elected official. I think it is cowardly to hide behind parliamentary privilege - with little or no consequences if he is actually wrong.
                      Bolt in Melbourne hasn't had the same privilege (not that I am commenting on the wright/wrong of his opinions merely that he didn't hide behind an archaic privilege) - but I won't digress from this column's topic!!
                      As a previous commentor states - it is dreadful when wrongly accused of a minor disgression so to extrapolate that out to a capital crime...
                      Glad to see you seem happier Sam...

                      Commenter
                      Happy-to-see-you-happier
                      Location
                      Newcastle
                      Date and time
                      September 30, 2011, 7:46AM

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