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‘Blatant Miscarriage of Justice’: Oklahoma Man Exonerated of Wrongful Conviction After 35 Years Despite Former Prosecutor’s Attempt to Perpetuate Injustice

by Douglas Ankney

Perry Lott was exonerated in Ada, Oklahoma, of a 1987 rape and burglary conviction after 35 years—30 of which Lott spent in prison—in spite of former District Attorney Paul Smith’s attempts to perpetuate such a gross miscarriage of justice.

In November 1987, a white woman was raped inside her home and her assailant took $120 from her purse. Police took the victim to the Ada Hospital where a rape kit was collected. The victim told police her assailant was a clean-shaven Black man with gold teeth. Later, while filming a Crime Stoppers reenactment video, a detective spotted Lott in his car parked across the street. Upon questioning, Lott told the detective he had been with his girlfriend during the time of the crime, and Lott agreed to accompany the detective to the Ada police station for a lineup. But none of the other men in the lineup had gold teeth. Instead, the other men placed gold foil over their teeth. This meant Lott was the only one who could open his mouth and show gold teeth. The victim identified Lott as her assailant after about 30 minutes. Lott was arrested and eventually convicted of rape and burglary based on the victim’s identification in spite of exculpatory evidence—he sported a mustache and had an alibi. His sentence of 100 years was upheld on appeal.

Decades later, the Innocence Project was able to secure DNA testing of the genetic material in the rape kit. In 2014, Lott was excluded as the contributor of the DNA. Despite this evidence proving Lott’s innocence, Smith opposed Lott’s motion for vacatur. In 2018, two days before the hearing on Lott’s motion, Smith offered Lott a sentence modification that allowed for his immediate release, but the conviction would remain on Lott’s record. Lott, after serving 30 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, understandably lacked confidence in the justice system and jumped at the chance for freedom. He accepted Smith’s offer.

Then in 2023, the Innocence Project asked newly elected District Attorney Erik Johnson to vacate Lott’s conviction based on the exonerating evidence. After a thorough review of the evidence, Johnson concluded Lott’s conviction should be vacated. “Former District Attorney Smith’s opposition to the irrefutable evidence of Lott’s innocence was a blatant miscarriage of justice,” said Barry Scheck, Innocence Project’s cofounder and special counsel. “This unwillingness to acknowledge the truth in addition to the systemic factors at play in Lott’s wrongful conviction cost him 35 precious years and have plagued other wrongful conviction cases in Ada for decades.”

Intentionally suggestive identification procedures as those undertaken in this case are found twice as often in Black and Latino exonerations compared with white exonerees, according to the National Registry of Exonerations (“NRE”). Compounding the problem is the fact that eyewitness misidentifications are the leading contributing factor in wrongful convictions. Eyewitness misidentifications were a contributing factor in 64% of the Innocence Project’s exonerations. Cross-racial identifications are particularly problematic. According to the NRE, 60% of sexual assault exonerees are Black, but less than 25% of people imprisoned for sexual assault are Black—suggesting that Black people are 800% more likely than white people to be falsely identified and imprisoned for sexual assault.

But perhaps nothing better exposes the appalling nature of America’s prosecutorial system than when prosecutors deliberately convict innocent people and maddeningly refuse to admit their error even in the face of conclusive evidence of factual innocence.   

 

Source: forensicmag

 

 

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