There is a tremendous amount of discussion following the op-ed piece I authored last week that compared the similarities of the Lott case to the Williamson case featured in The Innocent Man. Dialogue concerning our justice system should be welcomed; our community has not had a discussion regarding who should serve as district attorney since 1990, which was when the last election occurred.
The Lott case did not involve DNA from semen. It involved “touch” DNA, which is obtained from skin cells that are left behind when a person’s skin touches an object. Lott was scientifically excluded as the source of the DNA recovered from the victim. The victim testified at trial that the suspect removed his gloves before he put on a condom. This would have transferred the suspect’s skin cells to the exterior of the condom. My opponent has many theories concerning the source of the unidentified DNA in the victim’s rape kit, claiming it could have been contaminated by law enforcement, sneezed upon by forensic lab technicians or belonged to an unidentified sexual partner of the victim she mentioned in a recent interview. In our justice system, the prosecution bears the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and each of these scenarios casts reasonable doubt that Lott committed the crime. Lott should not be convicted in light of the new evidence unless the prosecution can rule out reasonable doubt by identifying the source of the DNA.
Despite the similarities between the Lott and Williamson cases, there is an important distinction. Mr. Peterson, the prosecutor in the Williamson case, took appropriate legal action when confronted with DNA evidence that excluded Williamson and moved to dismiss —a nd not retry the case. Furthermore, Mr. Peterson began an investigation to determine the source of the DNA recovered from the victim in order to seek justice and convict the actual perpetrator.
Conversely, Mr. Smith, when confronted with DNA evidence that excluded Lott, brokered a deal to release Lott from prison, yet maintains that Lott is a violent rapist. Because Lott remains convicted and the case is closed, there will be no further investigation to determine the source of the unidentified DNA.
In response to my article, my opponent suggests that anyone who questions or disagrees with his decisions must be inexperienced or unknowledgeable. I am neither.
I have practiced law in Ada since becoming an attorney in 2010. During the eight years I have been an attorney, more than 700 people chose to trust me to represent them in federal, state, and tribal courtrooms, I have tried seven jury trials (the same number that court records indicate my opponent tried since 2010) and won six of them. I have earned certification from the OSBI state laboratory for completing its Forensic Science Academy for attorneys, which included the analysis of DNA evidence. My articles have been published in the American Indian Law Review and the Oklahoma Bar Journal, and I have provided legal education training for attorneys.
In contrast to my trial experience, since 2010, prosecutors in Pontotoc County won only 25 percent of criminal jury trials; in 75 percent of cases, the person charged with a crime was either acquitted of all charges or received a lesser sentence from the jury than what was offered by prosecutors during plea negotiations. In May of this year, prosecutors lost the first-degree murder trial of Frinchey Rolen when he was acquitted by a jury of all charges. Jurors are well aware of the highly publicized and uncomfortable history of wrongful convictions in our community’s justice system. Part of the explanation for prosecutors’ poor trial record is that our jurors are skeptical of our prosecutors and their witnesses.
On Nov. 6, voters will have the choice to elect an outsider to the district attorney’s office or to continue to rely upon Gov. Fallin’s appointee. After twenty-eight years without an election, it is time to begin a new era.
As district attorney, I will serve the citizens of our entire district full-time. I will work to change the reputation and legacy of our district attorney’s office. Our legacy should reflect the values of our citizens: it should be one of integrity, truthfulness and justice for all.
Josh Edwards is a candidate for District Attorney for Judicial District 22, which includes Pontotoc, Seminole and Hughes counties.