BY CHELCI BIDOS
Imagine spending 21 years in prison for a crime you did not commit? Now, imagine that after being taught that the truth will set you free, you tell the truth and no one believes you? If this thought alone scares you, picture how Derrick Hamilton felt having to live it. Hamilton spent 21 years in a New York State prison for a murder that he never committed.
“His testimony was really mind-blowing, I mean I can’t envision being stuck in prison for a murder, let alone any crime that I did not commit, and no one listening to me. That would be a sickening feeling,” said Terry Miller, a criminal justice major and sophomore at Saint Peter’s.
On April 19th, the departments of Political Science, Social Justice and Criminal Justice held a panel presentation on wrongful convictions in the United States. They brought in guest speakers Jin Hee Lee, a graduate from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and 2000 graduate of Colombia Law School, along with Derrick Hamilton who was convicted of murder in 1990, and was finally paroled in December of 2011 after serving over two decades in prison.
Tammy Peterson, a senior at John Jay College, said “I heard about Hamilton’s case before and read a little about it in an online blog sometime last year. It was depressing to read and it really is a shame that such a large portion of his life was lost because someone did not follow through with their job.”
Peterson is a police studies major and DNA forensics minor and says that cases like Hamilton’s show the main reasons that she wants to pursue a career in the course that she studies.
“My hope is that in cases like this, I can be that person to follow through, and make sure that the person whose freedom we are taking away is the right person, and not an innocent person who was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Peterson said.
Lee started the panel discussion by talking about the current case that she was working on in which a man was shot and left for dead in the Bronx. The man accused of this murder, Richard Rosario was in Florida at the time. She further described a system in which incompetent lawyers and a dysfunctional justice system can be put to blame for many of the cases in which innocent people are wrongfully convicted and sent to prison.
Dr. Richard Green, a former professor at John Jay College in New York City, said that, “This example is one of many that happens all too often. Our justice system can be a great thing but it can also be a tool of destruction if it is not used right. This case is one in which the justice system clearly failed.”
After Hamilton’s testimony, he spoke on multicultural sensitivity, and the fact that the system may never change because of the competitiveness of our society, and the lack of support for many who are less privileged.
“I’m glad that Derrick was able to make it out, and can raise awareness about this issue because it falls through the cracks way too often,” Miller said.
“Not only does it make you think about our criminal justice system as a whole, but where its morals lie as well. Are you really innocent until proven guilty, or guilty until proven more guilty?”