Sep 19, 2013

Help for Exonerated Individuals in Wisconsin Needed

A District Attorney destroys exculpatory evidence; a presiding judge
has an affair with the alleged victim, and an innocent Don Miller
draws a 42-sentence in a clear abuse of office. The Wisconsin
Innocence Project is on the case as the Miller family endures.
"There is no more cruel tyranny than that which is exercised under cover of the law, and with the colors of justice." [UNITED STATES v. JANNOTTI (No. 81-1020), UNITED STATES v. SCHWARTZ  (No. 81-1021)]

A long over-due discussion is needed on innocence and what we as a society can do about the criminal justice system herding innocent people into prisons in a manner right out of the dark ages.

This phenomenon is not caused solely by corrupt prosecutors, though they play a prominent role.

Very few institutions exist to address this atrocity of an innocent person, unjustly arrested, falsely accused and unjustly convicted.

Ask Penny Brummer; hey, she's a lesbian so in a more bigoted time she was an instant suspect, and ultimately convicted because of her sexuality in Madison, Wisconsin.

Sheila and Doug Berry document Ms. Brummer's case in their Who Killed Sarah?

In the book, readers are treated to "a twilight zone where evidence is ignored or manipulated, innocence is disbelieved and justice is denied to both Penny Brummer and Sarah Gonstead (who was murdered with a gun)."

Writes David Protess in The Huffington Post, "In light of the progress that's been made by the LGBT movement, it's hard to imagine that not too long ago an innocent woman could be convicted of murder because she was a lesbian. And, it's harder still to believe that it could happen in a progressive city like Madison, Wis."

This twilight zone is the reality when innocents are systemically fed into the Police-Prison meat grinder; liberty and dignity prevented, human spirit assaulted and any type of human kindness systemically prevented, and life destroyed.

There are journalists, Dee Hall of the Wisconsin State Journal and Bill Lueders of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism are examples; institutions such the Milwaukee-based Innocence Consultants and the University of Wisconsin Law School's Innocence Project, all of whom do tremendous work.

Facing the power of the prosecutor's office, the mindlessness of politicians, the unthinking actions of law enforcement and the apathy of the public, an innocent man or woman convicted of a crime is up against what author Glenn C. Loury terms an "American ... leviathan unmatched in human history."

A leviathan today is defined as a totalitarian state with a vast bureaucracy. 

And a leviathan is an uneven match in our nation of by-standers, as politicians posture as tough-on-crime, and the prison-for-profit industry soars and one company is actually publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, as it too lobbies for harsher sentencing laws.

Keith Findley, faculty director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, discusses in this linked video an effort to help exonerated innocents in Wisconsin.

It would of course be better that innocents never be convicted. 

The putative nature of American culture and the careerism of American jurists and law enforcement in the system make the incarceration of innocents almost a fait accompli.

The English jurist William Blackstone in his 18th century Commentaries on the Laws of England famously declares, "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer."

One can only reference Blackstone today with dark irony

Too many American jurists delude themselves into thinking Blackstone's tenet guides the criminal justice system. 

Denying liberty is the go-to move today, it's convenient for police, prosecutors and judges.

Most of us—untouched by the cruel tyranny of the criminal justice system—view a common effort with the unjustly incarcerated (done in our names) as relevant to our lives as the passing appearance of the moon.

One person who can be helped now is Penny Brummer. She gets a DNA test, she'll get cleared.

Writes Protess:

Penny Brummer - Arrested and convicted of murder
because of absurd, atavistic bigotry towards
No evidence, no eyewitness, just ignorance and hate
The best hope at this point, Sheila (Berry) says, is DNA from the bullet that pierced Sarah's brain. Funds are needed to conduct Y-STR testing, which produced results in another infamous Wisconsin murder case involving Laurencia "Bambi" Bembenek. The testing costs $10-15,000, and the Berrys are offering copies of Who Killed Sarah? to anyone who makes a donation.

Will the justice system ever admit its mistake? Penny herself thinks so. "Something's got to happen," she told investigative reporter Bill Lueders, who first exposed the injustice. "God's not going to let me sit here for something I didn't do. I feel he's guiding somebody out there to help me."

But without the DNA testing or other new evidence, Penny's chances are slim. Now 43, she will not be eligible for parole until she turns 70. Unless something does happen, Penny will die in a Wisconsin prison, damned for a relationship once forbidden in an era of intolerance.

An online contribution, or a check can be sent to:

Penny Brummer Defense Fund
The People's Community Bank
P. O. Box 369
Spring Green, WI  53588

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