It is apparent that the “Era of the Innocent Man” will forever haunt our community.
My cousin, Debbie Carter, was brutally raped and murdered more than 35 years ago. In the passing years, it is always the accused, the convicted and the courts who are center stage. Debbie is rarely if ever mentioned while bantering egos go back and forth. Debbie has become lost in her own story and forgotten by those tasked with seeking justice in her name.
I am writing on behalf of Debbie’s mother, sisters, aunts and many other family members. For the past 12 years, I have studied Debbie’s case. Conducting interviews, speaking with experts in the criminal justice field and poring over countless pages of testimony and depositions in an effort to better understand for myself and my family what happened in her case that led to two innocent men being convicted of her murder while the real rapist/murderer went free.
It is an insult to my family and Debbie’s memory to continue to read statements that Williamson and Fritz were simply convicted by the evidence.
Recent articles in The Ada News regarding the local district attorney race and the release of Mr. Perry Lott have sparked debate. It was said that the state “stood firm” on the conviction of Lott due to the victim spending a long period of time with her attacker, even though the DNA did not match.
In cases where rape was committed by a stranger, mistaken eyewitness ID contributes to 70 percent of the DNA wrongful convictions. It is reckless and dangerous that you would not educate yourself and rape survivors as to what is now scientifically known about this issue.
Over the years I have met many rape survivors whose lives have been devastated when the DNA test didn’t match the horrific memories stamped in their mind. My friend Jennifer Thompson, author of ‘Picking Cotton,’ made a calculated effort while being held captive and raped to study every detail of her attacker. She was 100 percent sure of her identification of Ronald Cotton. He spent 10 years in prison before DNA revealed the real perpetrator in Jennifer’s case. Since then, Jennifer has made it her life’s work to help heal those whose lives have been wrecked by wrongful conviction as well as educating others on the issues of mistaken eyewitness ID.
Pontotoc County now has 4 individuals released from prison in cases where the DNA did not match — Calvin Lee Scott, Ron Williamson, Dennis Fritz and Perry Lott. Property taxes were raised to help pay for the civil suits brought by Williamson and Fritz. At this time, there are other cases from this area being reviewed in the higher courts.
It is a public safety issue to continue to deny the truth in these cases while the real rapists and murderers go free. The same old ways of doing things have cost my family and this community too much. We haven’t forgotten and we hope you don’t either.
Christy Sheppard, Ada