The nightmare that John Hincapie had to endure lasted for a quarter century. It all started when he was 17 years old, when the police beat a false confession out of him regarding a high-profile murder that took place in a New York City subway. The victim was a tourist from Utah by the name of Brian Watkins.
I came to know about Mr. Hincapie's injustice through a mutual friend and exoneree, Jeffrey Deskovic. Our families met at rallies against wrongful convictions where they were advocating for our release. Hincapie's mother, father, brother, and the rest of his family never gave up on their fight to prove his innocence. Wrongful convictions are a plague that has been eating away at our judicial system for a long time. The problem needs to be eradicated from top to bottom.
There are many different ways that people fight wrongful convictions. We all know that one place to fight is in the courtroom. Only a judge can vacate a false conviction or order a new trial. Besides the courtroom, we now bring our nightmares to the attention of society, through rallies, documentaries, books, social media, and other avenues. Some people disagree with these tactics--especially the prosecutors who don't want these injustices brought to light. But members of the judicial system should not be outraged that we are speaking out. Instead, they should be outraged about what went wrong with the system in the first place. This is a topic that many do not want to talk about.
Upon Mr. Hincapie's request, The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice agreed to assist him. During a chance meeting when Deskovic was the keynote speaker at the Hudson Link College Graduation at Fishkill Correctional Facility, Mr. Hincapie explained that he already had attorney Ron Kuby representing him and that he had retired N.Y. Parole Commissioner Bob Dennison and William Hughes doing the investigation work, but needed some help on peripheral matters. Undoing a wrongful conviction takes a total team effort, and all levels of assistance make a difference.
The Deskovic Foundation assisted by getting additional media coverage, frequently enabling Hincapie's mother to speak at press conferences and rallies pertaining to wrongful convictions. They also arranged side interviews and mobilized supporters to attend court hearings, which demonstrated that society was paying attention to the case. Deskovic himself attended hearings as a visual reminder of wrongful convictions: Deskovic and Hincapie were both teenage victims of police fabricated confessions.
On October 6, 2015, after a quarter of a century, Mr. Hincapie had his day in court--this time with the proper representation and support system in place. His attorney Mr. Kuby was able to present the new evidence that supported Hincapie's innocence and to present witnesses who could expose what the police had long suppressed--the truth. The prosecution tried to discredit Hincapie's claims but, on this day, his stars were finally aligned. The judge stated that Mr. Hincapie deserves a new trial and ordered his release from prison.
I placed a call to Jeffrey Deskovic, who was present with the Hincapie family. He passed the phone to John Hincapie's father, Carlos, who knew about my wrongful conviction from meeting my wife and family at prior rallies. I congratulated him and his family on their long-overdue win. Mr. Carlos said to me: "It's been a long time coming, today is a good day. Lorenzo, your time is coming."
As he was telling me this, tears of joy ran from my eyes for him and his family. I had a lump in my throat with a heavy heart. Why? I was living out a victory through John Hincapie. When one innocent prisoner is released, we all rejoice in it, hoping that we will be next.
John Hincapie was released from prison on Tuesday, October 6, 2015, at around 6:40 in the evening. He said: "Shame on those individuals who did this to me. But, I forgive them."
This is just another testament to the record number of exonerated prisoners--a number which is still climbing. With all the exonerations that have been taking place in New York, you would think that the police departments would be required to videotape interrogations, but this is not the case. Currently, New York state law does not require video-recorded police interviews, and there is no plan to change that. How long do innocent prisoners and our families have to suffer before change comes? Or is change ever going to come?
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 Pennsylvania Innocence Project, The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, The Campaign to Free Lorenzo Johnson, and others, he is continuing to fight for his freedom. Email him or sign his petition and learn more at: http://www.freelorenzojohnson.org/sign-the-petition.html.