THE BLOG

How the Media Helps (and Hurts) Wrongfully Convicted Prisoners

06/12/2015 10:43 am ET | Updated Jun 12, 2016

Once upon a time, we only had "the media," but the emergence of social media, in addition to mainstream media, has changed that. For innocent prisoners, social media has been a blessing. Why? While the mainstream media drags its feet in covering cases of wrongful conviction -- often waiting until a conviction has already been overturned before bringing the case to the public's attention -- social media users will speak out about a prisoner's innocence much sooner. Even for those innocent prisoners who obtain adequate representation and are successfully exonerated, the average time spent waiting in prison is between 13 and 15 years.

The media can play an integral part in bringing our injustice to society's attention. When the press tells our stories and shows how the judicial system failed us, it sheds light on the people responsible for our suffering. Corrupt officials' worst nightmare is seeing their name in tomorrow's headlines. In many cases, brave investigative reporters have generated interest in prisoners' innocence, helping them to obtain investigations, new trials, and exonerations.

But the majority of the time, the mainstream media will not touch a claim of innocence by prisoners who can show evidence of our innocence unless we are first granted a new trial, DNA excludes us, or we were just exonerated. That's when they come. The media really do not know how much damage they do by failing to report solid information of a prisoner's innocence.

Here's a comment left by Steve Gilmore on a recent blog post of mine pertaining my injustice and innocence:

It's sadly amazing how this happens so much more than Americans want to think or believe it does. This isn't a rarity. The United States of America with due process and rule of law has the most flawed and corrupt judicial system on this planet and Mr. Johnson's case is a prime example of what is transpiring all across this country.

Why, how can this be true? A total lack of interest by the American media to report and expose it. Now, they are quick to report about other countries and their shortcomings, example, Italy and Amanda Knox's case, but for some reason they refuse to expose the inadequacies in our judicial system, except when it's too late and someone has already spent and wasted many years of their lives wrongfully incarcerated.

If the American media reported on the wrongful prosecutions that transpire in this country the way they did the Knox case they could fill the pages every day of the week. It truly is that serious of a problem here in this country.

When I first read this, I smiled. Why? Amanda Knox's case was overturned on October 4, 2011, and my case was overturned the very next day. The difference was that my case was swept under the rug and Amanda's got national attention. What happened next for each of us was similar. 148 days after my release, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated my wrongful conviction with a per curiam decision, which means my attorneys were denied the right to file briefs or oral arguments (normal procedures). I returned to prison to keep fighting to clear my name once and for all. The media did not cover this injustice. Amanda's case was also reversed, when the Italian high court reversed the decision exonerating her. Once again, it became national news in the U.S. My legal team has now unearthed evidence, hidden by the prosecution, that prosecutors knew of my innocence for over 18 years. Still no media attention.

The media cannot continue to be selective in choosing which cases -- which innocent lives, that is -- to bring to the public's attention. We are talking about human beings, here, after all. Why do we have to spend 10, 15, 20, 25, or more years in prison before the mainstream media will break stories of our innocence? The mainstream media can make a difference and help curb wrongful convictions here in the United States. Hopefully they will follow the lead of social media and start bringing more wrongful convictions to light.

Lorenzo Johnson served 16 and a half years of a life-without-parole sentence, from 1995 to 2012, when the Third Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled there was legally insufficient evidence for his conviction. He remained free for four months, after which the US Supreme Court unanimously reinstated the conviction and ordered Lorenzo back to prison to resume the sentence. With the help of Michael Wiseman, Esq., The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, The Campaign to Free Lorenzo Johnson, and others, he is continuing to fight for his freedom. Sign his petition and learn more at: http://www.freelorenzojohnson.org/sign-the-petition.html.