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A Little Part of History

Published: 01 November 2012

Most people would like to be a part of history. Even if you can’t “make history”, it’s kind of exciting to at least be there. That occasion graced me the other day with little fanfare, no warning, and little talk afterward. But I’d like to tell you about it.

One of PI's advisor's, Ken Wyniemko, has begun a radio series, which we have been recording and you can read about here. As an exoneree, Ken has devoted his life to reforming the criminal justice system so what happened to him doesn't happen to others.

This was the fifth show. Since it is not far from where I work, I was able to sit in the studio this day. One of the guests was Carl Marlinga. Carl was the Macomb County Prosecutor during the time that Ken was convicted. Carl was not directly involved in Ken’s case, but this occurred under “his watch” and he has stepped up and taken responsibility. This is not the first time that Ken and Carl have been together. With a sense of incredible gratitude and respect, Ken noted that Carl is the only person who has apologized to him. We’re not talking about reading a cold, soulless script, but a deep, sincere apology for the terrible injustice inflicted upon an innocent person by the very authority that is supposed to protect its citizens. Carl has become a strong advocate for the issue of wrongful convictions, helping others to understand how they come about and what to do about it.

During the second half of the show, Ken paused and said, “This is the first time . . . never before has a county prosecutor and an exoneree been together on a radio show, throughout the United States, and I am honored to sit next to Carl, and I want to make everyone aware of that point.”

I wish there could have been a pause, a moment of reflection, but as such, radio talk shows don’t do well with silence. So they continued on with the business at hand. It sort of reminded me of the “lion lying down with the lamb”. In the courtroom, they were adversaries. But this day, they came together as allies with a common purpose. Their cause, simply put, is to make our criminal justice system more responsible. Our society doesn’t like to see innocent people convicted. Prosecutors don't want to convict the innocent, and the responsible ones want to see the same consequence for the state that is routinely imposed upon individuals who have caused harm to another: restitution.

To caste a shadow over all prosecutors is wrong. But in the cases where wrongful convictions have occurred, it seems to me that the attitude of the resistant ones is frighteningly close to the immature, juvenile posturing of a bully on a grade school playground. But my! How the stakes have changed! All that matters is power and the ability to control your opponent. One example of this is the scores of prosecutors who fight for decades to prevent DNA from a crime scene to be tested. It is as if they are oblivious to the fact that the pretense of seeking justice has been dropped entirely and it is obvious to everyone else outside the criminal justice system that the only thing they care about is winning . . . and the rest of us lose.

In the end, we need to grow up. Reason must prevail. Is witnessing two reasonable people honestly discussing a common problem in a radio studio so remarkable? Well, in this area, I’m afraid it can be, but it won't remain that way. The times are changing. Like it or not, we will grow up, one little step in history at a time. Thanks Carl and Ken. Keep up the good work!


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