Post Conviction 2009 : Triumphs and Tradgedies

Uploaded by TheNFSTC on 02.10.2012

[ Music ]
[ Applause ]
>> Thank you very much.
Thank you NIJ for inviting me and got my watch here kind
of sideways, so I'll stop turning my head.
Well it is cold in Florida.
I was really hoping to get a tan and come on
and make everybody jealous, but that's not going to happen.
And I do want to forewarn you
that I have not properly jacked myself up on caffeine yet.
Usually by now I've got at least 16 ounces
and I haven't even gotten 8 in, so that's totally my fault.
I got up 6 minutes before I was supposed to be here.
So, it's crazy.
But thank you very much for having me here.
This is an incredible opportunity
for Ronald and myself.
And who would've ever thought
that I would be standing at an NIJ conference?
Not only did I not know what NIJ was,
I certainly didn't think I had anything to share
with you all many years ago.
And of course, they say
in a journey it's not the destination that matters.
It's the journey along the way.
And this journey I've been on has been incredible.
And I feel very blessed that truly I have been the one
to be able to bring it to people such as yourselves
that are interested in justice.
So, again thank you for having me.
My journey takes place and starts a long time ago in 1984
as a college student in a small, small college town called Elion,
which is right beside Burlington,
which is this massive city in comparison to Elion.
And I was living in an apartment.
I was a single student, 22 years old.
I was working 2 jobs and going to school and making a 4 point 0
and was engaged to a student at the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
And so finally I felt by the age of 22, I, I had my, my path.
I knew where I was headed.
I was really proud of the choices I was making and,
and so life was really quite good for me the summer of 1984.
In July for those of you who are lucky enough to be
in North Carolina in July, it's extraordinarily hot and humid.
This particular July day was just horrifically hot and humid.
And I had gone out to play tennis with my finance
and showered, we had gone out to dinner.
I had eaten an incredible amount of Chinese food, which I'm known
to eat an incredible amount of food anyway.
But I really ate a lot of Chinese food this night and came
down with a massive MSG overdose.
And my head was hurting so I had asked my finance
to take me home, I needed to go to bed early.
And that's what he did.
And my last memory on July 28th of 1984 was of him standing
over me, making sure that I had indeed gone
to sleep and I was ok.
So somewhere around 3 o'clock in the morning of July 29th,
I remember feeling as if there was a presence in my room.
I remember waking up to a sound
that I thought was someone in my room.
And I'm not sure how many of you ladies
out there have had those experiences, but I have come
to know that most women have this where we feel
like there's someone in the room and you're not sure
if you're dreaming it or if it's actually happening.
And so certainly as I was experiencing this,
this presence, I decided that there was no one in the room,
I would go back to sleep,
because the option was terrifying.
At that moment, I felt someone brush against my arm.
And I could no longer ignore
that there was a presence in my room.
And I remember looking to the left side of my bed
to see someone's head kind of crouched
and sliding beside of it.
Things happen quickly in these moments.
You come up with something that is palatable.
So certainly, this had to have been my fiance.
He'd fallen asleep, making sure that I was safe
and he was quietly leaving my apartment to go home.
And I thought that's not possible.
His mother was very domineering, needed to know where he was
at all moments of the day and so he would not have been
in my apartment at 3 o'clock in the morning.
So I then said out loud, who is that, who's there?
And at that second a man jumped up and straddled my body,
put a knife to my throat and as I screamed,
he muffled my mouth with a gloved hand.
And again, thoughts are going through your head very rapidly.
This cannot be happening to me.
It, surely I know this person and this is has got
to be some incredibly sick joke.
And as I strained through the light coming through my window,
I realized I didn't know this person, I didn't recognize him
and I was in a lot of trouble.
He's broken in to rob me, that has to be it.
He's broken in to rob me, I'll offer him everything I have.
He can have my car, my credit cards,
my checkbook, any cash I have.
It doesn't matter.
Just don't hurt me and I promise I won't call the police.
And he looked at me and he said I don't want your money.
And at that moment, I knew.
I knew what was going to happen to me.
I didn't know if he would simply rape me and leave
or if he would rape me and beat me
or if he would rape me and kill me.
These were my options.
I remember very quickly praying
that somehow I'd have the presence
of mind to survive this.
That somehow my mother and father would not be
at the morgue within hours to identify my body.
That somehow my face wouldn't be permanently scarred
for the rest of my life.
I remember thinking to myself, think Jennifer, think.
How are you going to get through this?
I know, I'll reach for the lamp and I'll hit him on the head
and I'll knock him out and I'll call the police
and I'll be safe.
But I'm on my back and there's a knife to my throat.
I'm 5 foot 1.
At that time, I may have weighed 105 pounds.
I'd never been in a fight in my life.
I had no idea how to physically defend myself.
And I would make a guess,
this was probably not the first time he had done this.
I knew he was under the influence
of alcohol, I could smell it.
I didn't know if he was under the influence of narcotics
and I wasn't going to tempt fate at this moment.
A week before my sister and I had taken a walk
around the lake near Elion.
She was also a college student there.
And as sisters often do,
you have these incredibly deep conversations of the what ifs.
And this particular day, we were talking about what would you do
if someone attacked you?
If someone raped you?
What would you do?
And my sister is three years younger,
but she's also much taller.
And she's always been more feisty.
And she said I would scratch his eyes out.
I would bite him, I would punch him, I would spit,
I would do anything to defend myself.
There's no way I'd let him rape me.
I'd die first.
And I remember thinking, you know I understand
from what I've read that you have a better chance of survival
if you stay very calm.
And that conversation came back to me at 3 o'clock that morning.
And I remember telling myself stay calm,
stay very, very present.
And those of you who work in the justice field I'm sure have come
across many women who are victims of sexual assaults.
And what typically happens is you have this
out of body experience.
I mean it's very painful staying present
when someone is assaulting your body.
But I had to will myself to stay right there.
Because I knew that it was very important for me
to pay attention to what this man looked like.
I knew that if I survived,
the police officers would have a list of questions.
How tall was your assailant?
Do you know approximately how old he was?
What color was his skin, how tall is he?
Do you remember what he was wearing?
Did he have any identifying scars or tattoos?
What did his face look like?
What was the shape of his eyes?
I knew those were questions that were going to be asked of me
and those were questions I needed to know.
So if you can imagine trying to stare, 12 inches away
into the face of a man who is getting ready
to sexually assault you.
But I made myself stay.
I tried to memorize the things about his face
that I thought would be important.
Did he have a missing tooth perhaps,
maybe he had a pierced ear.
How long was his hair?
What was the color of his skin?
Perhaps there was something
in his voice I could remember, something unusually.
Maybe he would leave a clue in something he would say
that I would be able to tell the police officers.
And as he began to rape me, I remember thinking to myself,
if I survive, if I get to the police
and if I can identify you, I hope you die.
I hope you never,
ever experience one moment of freedom.
Then about 15 minutes, he tried to kiss me.
And the revoltion was just huge.
I thought I was going to throw up.
And he looked at me and he said, relax.
And I don't know why this happened,
I can't explain it other than I, I feel very confident
that there was some larger power working within me.
I knew this was my moment and I said to him,
you know I am really afraid of knives.
If you'll take the knife and walk down the front steps
of my apartment and drop the knife on the hood of my car,
and I can hear it clink, I'll let you come back in.
I knew space was important for me.
And he looked at me and he said really?
And I said yes.
I had him, it was my, my control coming back,
little bit by little bit.
As I got off the bed, I wrapped a blanket around myself
in preparation that I would hopefully be able to run free.
But I made myself stand close to him
because again I knew how tall was he would be important.
Maybe his feet were splayed a specific direction,
maybe they were pigeon toed or duck footed.
What color were his shoes?
Where did his arms hang?
Were they particularly long arms?
Things I needed to know.
He didn't go to the car.
He simply dropped the knife or so I thought out the front door
and came back in and grabbed my arm
and I thought there's no way I'm going back in that room.
I have to go to the bathroom,
can I please just go to the bathroom?
I needed time and he said, yes, make it quick.
And I went into the bathroom and I began to pray.
I don't know what I'm doing.
I have no idea what to do here.
But I did know that light was something he was avoiding.
Light became very important to me that night.
So as I came out of the bathroom,
I said can I please go get myself something to drink?
I'm really thirsty.
And he said, sure, make myself a drink too.
We'll have a party.
I thought, ok, I needed to get to the kitchen,
because he had come through the kitchen, so his way in was going
to be my escape route.
As I turned the corner into the kitchen,
I quickly turned the light on, again knowing
that if the light was on, he wouldn't come in there.
And I began to make noises with the water and the ice trays
and cabinets and drawers.
As I slowly open up my back door.
And I prayed and I took off running.
It had started to rain, it was a warm misty rain falling down.
And I had not planned where I was going to run to.
I had a blanket, no shoes, no plan,
no idea where I was going to go.
I ended up turning to my neighbor's apartment
and began banging, having no idea
that he was gone for the weekend.
And I turned and looked at my apartment, I saw him coming
out behind me, after me.
And I took off in to the neighborhood.
At one point I actually pinned myself on the corner
of a condominium complex and I looked
over to my left and saw a light.
And all I knew to do was to run to the light.
And as I ran to the house with the carport on, I began banging
on the door and the man came
around the corner and he looked at me.
It was now 330 in the morning
and there's a girl outside in a blanket.
And I started screaming please let me in,
I've just been raped and he's away me.
And the man did the only thing I can think any normal,
rational person would do at 330
in the morning, which was scream.
His wife came around the corner and saw me.
And she said oh god, it's a student
at the college, let her in.
I had run to a professor's house.
I had no idea.
So they let me in and I fainted.
They called 911 and the next thing I knew,
the police were there.
They began asking me questions.
Did you get a good look at the man who assaulted you?
Yes I did.
Can you give us a, an approximate description
of what he looks like?
Well, he's about 6 foot tall, 21, 23, 24 years old,
African American man, light complexion, not dark,
short cropped hair, a pencil thin mustache.
He's wearing a navy blue shirt with white stripes
on the sleeves and dark pants and canvas type shoes.
And it became very clear that I had paid very close attention
to the man who had just assaulted me and raped me.
Went to the hospital.
As I was waiting for the doctor to come in, he was very annoyed
at having to be woken up at 4 o'clock in the morning to come
and deal with another sexual assault.
I heard a woman crying not far from where I was.
The detective came in my room and he introduced himself
as Michael Galden and I said Detective Galden,
the woman I hear crying down the hall, is she ok?
And what happened to her?
And he said, she was just raped.
And I said, was it the same man who just raped me?
And he said yes we think so.
She was my mother's age.
She lived less than a mile away from my home.
He had broken through her window and sexually assaulted her
and beaten her and bitten her.
My pain was her pain, we shared this common link that night.
We knew what each other was experiencing, that brokenness,
that, that moment in time where you know that at 230
that morning I was Jennifer Thomas, a 4 point 0 student
at Elion College, engaged.
And I no longer existed.
She had died.
She was gone.
And no amount of time, no amount
of therapy would ever bring that girl back to me.
She was dead.
And I hated him.
I could taste it in my mouth, that hate, that bitterness,
that, that rage at another human being.
But because I'm natured the way I am, I needed to have a job.
My job became identifying my rapist.
I thought about it every moment.
I wanted him caught, I wanted him tried,
I wanted him convicted and had the state
of North Carolina had the death penalty
for rape I would have wanted him dead.
Over the next few days, I began
to put together what my assailant looked like.
We did a composite sketch the morning after the rape,
putting together which eyes best resembled my attacker,
which nose most closely resembled him,
what were the shape of his lips, his jaw, his ears,
his eyebrows, his eyelashes.
And it became clear when the composite sketch was done
that this resembled my attacker, this looked like the man
who raped you Jennifer?
Yes it does.
Are you sure?
I'm positive, that looks just like him.
The composite sketch ran in the newspaper,
within days we had a suspect.
I came in to do a photo lineup.
And I'm sitting there with the detective,
having been given the instructions to take your time,
don't feel compelled to choose anyone, he may or may not be
in here, it became clear that he was in there.
And I pointed out the picture and it belonged
to a man named Ronald Cotton.
You sure this is the man?
I'm positive that's the man.
Days go by and it leads into a physical line up.
I had never done a physical line up.
My only understanding of a physical line
up was whatever I had seen on detective and cop shows.
I assumed I was going to be brought into a room
where there would be a one-way mirror
and I would be very protected.
But of course, it didn't happen.
The police department was being renovated, so I was taken
into an abandoned school, into a classroom, with a table
that divided me and the men in the physical line up.
Again, I was given the same instructions,
don't feel compelled to choose anyone.
He may or may not be in here,
but of course, why would I be here?
Why would I be here if he wasn't in this line up?
It was my job to find him.
And I found him.
It was number 5.
It was Ronald Cotton.
I knew it, I knew it.
I was a good victim.
I was a good witness.
We began to prepare for probable cause hearing.
It took hours.
The judge declared a trial.
Ronald Cotton was to stand trial
for the rape of Jennifer Thompson.
The second woman had not been able
to positively identify Ronald Cotton or anyone else
and so therefore I was holding the burden
and carrying both of our rapes myself.
In January of 1985, state versus Cotton was hold
in Graham, North Carolina.
Who would have ever thought I would be at a trial
in a courthouse for my rape?
I sat there with my parents on the side of the prosecution.
I remember being so amazed about how huge Ronald's family was.
There were so many of them.
But we all knew that Ronald Cotton had raped me
and they were just there to lie for him.
We knew that.
Two weeks of my life went by and I would look
over the defense table
and I would see Ronald Cotton sitting there,
never showed any remorse, never showed any fear, complete stone.
That was clear, that was the face of someone who was guilty.
I had to stand on trial and I had to tell every horrific thing
that he had done to me
that night while my father and mother cried.
I remember looking at Ronald Cotton thinking I hate you worse
than I've ever hated another person in my whole life.
I wish you were dead.
At the end of the two weeks, Ronald Cotton was sentenced,
he was found guilty of first-degree rape,
first-degree sexual offense, first-degree breaking
and entering and he was given life and 54 years.
It was an amazing day in my life.
It was that day that I felt I had deserved.
It was owed to me.
He deserved what he got.
Ronald Cotton was going to prison for the rest of his life
and I was going back
to the district attorney's office for champagne.
Because this is what justice is.
The victim receives the justice, the guilty gets punished
and I could move on or so I thought.
The next semester was just a nightmare.
I made my first C in college, my fiance and I couldn't,
we couldn't make it, the struggles were just too hard.
My recovery was a nightmare, but every night I would go to bed
and I remember praying for my mother and my father
and my friends and please God, while Ronald Cotton is
in prison, could you please have him killed?
But while he's being killed,
could you please have someone rape him?
I wanted him to know what that moment felt like, what it feels
like to have no power and no control over your life,
that you don't even get to say what happens to your own body.
That brokenness, that spirit and that soul that just dies
and I wanted him to know that.
And then I wanted him to die.
This was a daily prayer of mine, every night.
In 1987, the appellate court overturned the decision.
In their infinite wisdom, they believed
that the jury should have known
that there had been a second victim
and she had been incapable of making an identification.
Thus if she was incapable and maybe made a mistake,
perhaps Jennifer Thompson made a mistake too.
It was possible.
But I knew who I had seen.
I knew who had raped me.
I knew it was Ronald Cotton.
So we went back to court.
This time we had to try both rapes.
Fortunately the second victim had had an epiphany,
she know remembered, how could she forget?
It was indeed Ronald Cotton.
It was very clear now.
So we headed back to court.
Now Ronald in his defense of course were coming
up with all kinds of theories.
One of which that the actual rapist was serving time
in Central Prison with Ronald Cotton
and his name was Bobby Pool.
And if I just got a look at him, all of the sudden I would know
that I had made a mistake.
So under verdure in 1987,
they bring in Bobby Pool, the mystery guy.
No sir, that's not the man who raped me.
Jennifer, do you see the man
in this courtroom today who did rape you?
Yes sir, he's sitting at the defense table.
Are you pointing at Ronald Cotton?
I'm pointing at Ronald Cotton.
Are you sure?
I'm positive.
That's enough.
Bobby Pool is taken out, jury never knows he exists.
Ronald Cotton is now convicted of two first-degree rapes,
two first-degree sexual offenses,
and two first-degree rapes and he is now given a sentence
of two life sentences and off he goes.
And again, it's the judicial system at work.
It's the way it's supposed to happen.
He's never supposed to be a free man.
He is never supposed to fall in love, he's never supposed
to have the freedoms that we all enjoy, the pursuit of happiness.
He will die in prison.
And that's what he deserved.
Life began to take on a pattern for me.
I was working, I got engaged, I got married.
I got pregnant, in the spring of 1990, I gave birth to triplets.
That's not really a pattern, but.
[ Laughter ]
It's my pattern.
Two little girls and a boy.
Oh, it was god's gift to me for having survived.
It was my reward.
I mean, they were mine and Ronald was never going
to hold his baby because he was never going to find love.
He was going to die in prison.
This is the way it was supposed to be.
And life got crazy and you can imagine.
I mean the laundry was epic.
[ Laughter ]
The, the feedings were all the time.
They went to school and my days became overwhelmed
with band aids and peanut butter and jelly and stories
and crayons and play dough and, and I loved every moment of it
until the spring of 1995 when Detective Galden
who was now Captain and the assistant district attorney
of Alamedas County came to pay me a wee little visit
and told me about this thing called DNA.
Post conviction DNA.
Ronald wanted a test run.
He was still claiming he was innocent.
But we knew, you don't have to do this Jennifer,
but your blood sample has disintegrated from the rape kit.
You might be court ordered to do it and I said, listen.
We all know that it was Ronald Cotton.
I saw his face in my nightmares every single night.
Let's do it now, take the blood now, do the tests now
because I knew what it was going to come back and show.
And it was going to show what we'd always known
that Ronald Cotton was a horrible monster.
And I didn't even sweat it.
The blood sample went off to the lab.
I didn't think about it, I knew what it was going to show.
I couldn't go back to court, I couldn't do another trial.
This was my life now, my children.
So as I waited, June rolled around
and again I got another phone call,
Jennifer we need to come and see you.
And Captain Galden and Rob Johnson stood in my kitchen
and looked at me and said Jennifer, tests are back.
And we were wrong.
It wasn't Ronald Cotton who had raped you.
It was Bobby Pool.
And most people like to ask me, well gosh, dang Jennifer,
how did that make you feel?
What'd you do?
What'd you say?
I mean, did you faint, did you scream?
No, I just thanked them for their information
and wished them a good day because what do you do
with that kind of information?
My world had now become a snow globe.
Like somebody had picked up my life
and just given it a really good shake and then set it
down on the table and said, here you go.
This is your world now, you get to navigate it.
During the day, I could function.
I knew how to fold laundry.
I knew how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
I knew how to go to the park.
I knew that stuff, I could do it.
But at night when I would tuck those babies into bed and the,
the house would get really, really quiet
and I was left alone with me, I was suffocating.
The shame and the guilt had become enormous.
I had never felt shame and I had never felt guilt
from being a rape victim.
I knew that I was a good person.
I knew what had happened to me I didn't deserve.
But what I do with this?
What do I say to this man?
Surely, he hates me.
11 years of his life is gone.
It's just gone.
And I can't give it back.
I can't will it to come back.
There's no apology in the world that's going to,
that's going to be ok.
Do I call him on the phone?
Do I write him a letter?
Don't write him a letter Jennifer.
For God sake's don't put anything in writing
because people can like sue you.
Well, do I call him?
Don't call him Jennifer.
Listen, Ronald was like treading on that
like you know very scary place
in his life when he got arrested.
I mean he wasn't an angel remember.
And they get three hot meals a day in prison and I hear
that they even have Internet and computers
and they can get a college education
and they get to play basketball.
They have gymnasiums.
I mean for god sakes, he probably lived 11 years better
than he would have if he hadn't gone to prison.
And so think of it this way Jennifer,
he probably lived a longer and better life thanks to you.
Well, I thought gosh, that feels kind of good for a second,
maybe a second and a half.
But I knew that nobody trades freedom, nobody trades love
and family for three hots and a cot.
But again, I wasn't going to do anything about it
because surely he hated me.
Surely, he was going to exact revenge
on me somewhere down the line.
Maybe it wouldn't be me, maybe it would be my children,
but I had to be cautious and I had to be careful.
In 1996, a man named Ben Loadermen found me from Boston.
And he came into my house and he said Jennifer,
we're going to do this documentary
about the fallibility of eyewitness identification.
And somehow, my name came up.
And he said, Ronald has agreed to talk about his story.
Would you be willing to tell yours?
And I thought are you crazy?
I mean people in my neighborhood don't know this.
I can't tell anybody what I did.
You want me to tell the world on some documentary?
No, you're crazy, not going to do it.
We respect that Jennifer.
Just know that Ronald's going to tell his side of the story
and then I thought well gosh, if Ron's going to tell his side
of the story, who the heck's going to tell mine?
Suppose I look like an idiot?
God knows I can't look like an idiot.
Ok, I'll tell my side of the story.
However, there's a few stipulations here and that is
that Ronald not see me.
Like I don't want to meet him because he will kill me.
Is that understood?
And they respected that.
So as we were putting together this documentary, the film
and the light crew would come in and go,
saw Ron today, heck of a nice guy.
Gosh, gentle, quiet, unassuming, lovely man.
And I thought, uh huh, this is a set up.
He's going to kill me, I can feel it.
I'm being set up.
No, I don't want to see him.
And I didn't until What Jennifer Saw aired in February of 1997
and I remembered sitting
in my den being stunned at my actual words.
That while I understood the scientific evidence
that Ronald Cotton had not been the man
who raped me, it was still here.
I couldn't get it out of my mind.
It was still in my nightmares every single night.
What am I going to do?
I can't live like this.
So within a month, a private meeting was set
up for Ronald Cotton and I,
not far from where I'd actually been raped.
I remember sitting in this pastor's study,
what am I going to say?
Well I can't even figure out what to call the man.
I can't even figure out if I'm supposed to say, hi Ronald,
or hi Ron or hi Mister Cotton, I mean do I, I mean I don't know.
I couldn't even get past that,
let alone what else I was going to say to the man.
And I remember seeing a truck pull up and this very,
very tall African American man gets out of the truck.
And he stands beside his really tiney winey wife
and I thought oh my god, he's too tall.
My rapist had not been that tall.
How had I not seen that?
Why had I not picked up on that?
As he came into the pastor's study, I couldn't move.
I couldn't physically stand.
I remember looking at him and started to cry.
And I said Ronald, if I spent every second of every minute
of every hour of every day for the rest
of my life telling you how sorry I am for what happened to you,
it wouldn't be enough.
It wouldn't come close to how I feel.
And Ronald, very lovingly, without hesitation,
took my hands and said, I forgive you.
I've never been angry at you.
It's ok. Don't be afraid.
Don't be afraid of me.
I will never, ever hurt you.
And we spent the next two hours talking about what had happened,
what had life been like, the pains the fears, the trauma,
the shared trauma of being caught up in a judicial system
that sometimes is wrong.
At the end of that two hours, we ended up in each other's arms
and he looked at me and said don't look
over your shoulders thinking I'm going to be there to hurt you
because I won't be there.
And we made a promise that afternoon
that nothing would ever come between our relationship.
We had this shared kinship that is very unique.
It's, it's very I can't even explain it to most people.
Except about a year after that Ronald called me on the phone.
I was standing in my kitchen, my children were sitting
at the table knowing darn well
that their dad was in the next room.
And at the end of my conversation,
Ronald said well Jennifer I've got to go.
Say hello to your family and know that I love you.
And I said I love you too.
And my children looked at me and said who was that?
And I said oh that was Ronald.
Ronald? Um hm, Ronald.
Ronald Cotton?
Yes, Ronald Cotton.
That's really weird.
And perhaps it's weird and perhaps its deeper than I can,
I can even articulate to any of you.
But I can tell you that Ronald that day
in that pastor's study gave me a gift
that he didn't have to give me.
But it was a gift that led me to a place where I began to heal
for the first time in 13 years.
Ronald became my teacher that afternoon
on what grace and mercy is.
Ronald that day helped me bridge my heart from a place of anger
and hate to a place where I could experience joy
and peace and love.
That journey has taken me through years of telling people
such as yourself this story about the need
for post conviction DNA, the need for reforms in our system
as it relates to eyewitness identification,
as it relates to forensic science.
Ronald Cotton gave me a voice back that I had lost
so many years ago, July 29th, 1984.
Ronald gave me the strength to be before you all today.
He's given me a gift that is beautiful.
And it's Ronald.
It's who he is and so I'd like to introduce to you
at this moment, my very, very dear friend,
a man who I truly love with my whole heart
and that's Ronald Cotton.
[ Applause ]
>> Ronald: Thank you.
It's a pleasure to be here before you this morning.
I thank NIJ for inviting me here along with Jennifer
and the rest of the crew.
It feels a little strange to look out and see all you all,
it's been a while since I've been in a position like this.
But I just do my best.
I've been a little bit under the weather, so just bear with me
and I'll tell you my story.
And again, my name is Ronald Cotton.
I'm from Burlington, North Carolina, but I live in Levin.
My story begun on August the 1st, 1984.
About noon, I had arrived home from a night out with my fiance
and as we was approaching the apartment that we was living
in with my mother and boyfriend, I got out and threw my shirt
over my shoulder because pretty warm outside.
As I was approaching the door, he stopped me
and he said Ronald, I said yeah,
he said the cops was looking for you.
And I immediately asked for what reason?
He said, they say you're a prime suspect in a rape
that was committed within the community.
And I immediately instructed him
that I have not commit such a crime.
And he said well, they came in the apartment and took a pair
of your shoes, my shoes and your sister's shoes.
Of course, I have 8 sisters, but they all doesn't live at home.
And at that time, I said well I can't drive my car
to the police department because the transmission is out.
I said I'm not going to ride no bicycle
because that's my only transportation right now.
I said so therefore it leaves me with one other option.
And that is to go to the neighbor's house and ask her
and hope that she would allow me to use her car to go
to the police department.
So I walked over to her apartment and I,
she was outside, you know sweeping the porch
and I said Patricia, she said yes.
I said, is it ok if I borrow your car to go
to the police department.
She said for what and I said well that crime
that had been committed in the community last month,
they have me as a prime suspect and I'd like to go
down to the police department and find out what's going on.
And she said, sure, make sure you have my car back before 3
o'clock because I have to go to work.
I said, well I'll take one of my sisters with me
and let her drive the car back in case they lock me up.
I told my sister, her name is Tootie, I said Tootie,
I said I'd like for you to go with me to the police department
and drive Patricia's car.
I said I want to read the papers and find out what's going on.
And they had written out and typed up a paper
for whatever the crime had been committed upon Jennifer.
I wanted to look.
They had the wrong guy.
So anyway, I told my sister,
I said well let's go by Theresa's house.
That's the girl I was dating at the time.
And we gets over there and you know she comes out,
running, crying.
Saying Ron, you know the cops are looking for you.
And I said yeah I know.
I said I'm getting ready to go down and find out what's going
on because I hadn't commit such a crime.
So she gets in the car and we all proceeded
on to the police department.
And we pulls in the parking lot and gets out and I looking
up at the building and notice some cops
in the window looking out.
And they recognize me and so they proceeded you know
like there he is, let's get him.
So I approached the door and as I opened the door,
I was introduced by the detective that was
on the other side named Detective Galden.
And I said well, my name is Ronald Cotton
and I hear you all are looking for me for a crime
that I did not commit.
That's why I'm here.
I'd like to know what's going on
and they said, well come on inside.
So we goes up side to the room
and they started asking me my whereabouts from July the 27th.
I thought he said the 22nd and I thought, you know at the time,
you know I'm young, I like to get out and have fun.
And you know go to the bars, clubs and whatnot at that time.
So you know I didn't keeping up what I do day to day or whatnot,
you know other than things that I know I needed to,
you know that were responsible for me.
So as I told him my story, he left the room,
brought another detective in and I told him my story,
but I got my weekends confused, mixed up
and they said that I was lying.
So they called in a uniform officer
and they said lock him up.
Go back, photographed, finger printed and go back in
and I was handcuffed and put in a patrol car and taken
to the Atamos County sheriff department.
So I'm down there and I'm thinking about the things that,
that they had asked me.
You know you think you're mister big stuff, going around town,
screwing these, excuse my expression, but white women.
But said, but we have your ass.
I said well, look, you can say what you want to say.
I did not commit this crime.
I said, he said well what about this foam cushion
from these shoes that was found in Jennifer's apartment?
I said well, I did not do that.
I said, that foam was found in her apartment from that shoe.
I said [inaudible], you put those foam there.
And he said, well no.
So they locked me on up and placed me under,
under a 50000 dollar bond.
And I'm sitting in my cell with my head hung down,
you know trying to figure out you know what's going on,
you know what is this?
You know why is it happening?
You know what did I do to deserve such?
And finally as time went by you know my family begun
to bring me cosmetics that I needed, you know deodorant,
toothpaste and all that.
Legal pads and so I started taking notes, you know.
I said well I realize
that I made a mistake of my whereabouts.
My alibi was only my family.
I was telling the truth but they said I was lying
and on August the 26th, 1984, we go to a probable cause hearing
and Jennifer, she was there, she took the stand.
Told the judge you know what had happened and what the guy looked
like and she said he had a pencil moustache, dirt one,
you know I felt my blood kind of boil.
I said she's making jokes of me, you know.
But I do understand a crime had been committed upon her,
but they had the wrong guy.
So on January the 16th, 1985, I went to court.
I did not take the stand because my attorney said well you know
being that I had a pass that they would more like dwell
on it, so he had asked me to take a list from my witnesses
and being that my girlfriend, she's Caucasian, and Jennifer's,
you know she's white, Caucasian, they said well that's going
to be a strike against you.
You don't want that.
So I said well, ok, we'll let it ride.
They offered me a plea bargain, a life sentence.
I said well I'm not taking that.
I said because I haven't committed a crime.
Case go to trial, I get found guilty.
The judge handed me a life sentence the first day.
I go back to the county jail,
the guy said well how'd you come out Cotton?
And I said well I got found guilty.
I said I received a life sentence.
I said well you don't seem
to have just received a life sentence,
they said because you smiling.
I said, sure I'm smiling to keep from crying.
You know I was hurting inside.
You know no one knew that but me, you know.
I was walking in those shoes and I had to deal
with what I had to, but I didn't want to.
But I go back to court the very next day
and I received 54 years.
I had the opportunity to use the phone once a week.
I call my family, stayed in touch.
They was there, they were behind me 100%.
But you know the table turned.
I couldn't give up.
I had to be strong.
My hair had grew so long, you know I was plating it
and it got practically down to beneath my shoulders
and I had a big ole afro like you see some
of these guys now a day's wearing, no facial hair
and it just wouldn't grow you know.
So I had to take a fork that I used to eat my meal with,
I saved an extra to use as a comb
to do my hair the best that I could.
You know I wasn't trying to be dressed to impress.
I just had to deal with what I had to.
And finally, they returned me back to the county jail,
I realized what I had to deal with.
I took the time to write a letter to the head jailor
because I was getting bored of being in jail.
I laid in jail one year, I was getting tense, frustrated.
Guys you know running their mouth and I said well,
it's time to make my move.
So I wrote my letter, I said sir, I've been locked
up for a crime I did not commit.
Been to trial, found guilty and sentenced to the penitentiary.
I said I'm ready to move on, start doing my time
because I had already gotten in a fight in jail, you know just
by the tension, the frustration building up.
The guy he said the wrong thing and I just took it to him.
I told him I said, if you don't get me out of this jail today,
I'm going to start tearing it apart you know because building,
I'm ready to get on down the road, start serving my time.
And so the very next morning a deputy come to my cell and said,
Mister Cotton, pack your belongings,
you're going to prison.
So I packed my belongings, handcuffed, shackled,
placed in a station wagon, head down the state.
The officer, I told him I said, I said you taking me to a place
that I shouldn't be going.
I said because I didn't commit the crime.
He said, well I don't know, I don't care, he said.
My job is to get you there.
And so you know he turned up the radio and a song was
on the radio, Michael Bolton,
title how can I live without you.
And so I'm listening to that song and it touched me
and I'm looking at the vehicles passing by,
we were running maybe like 95 miles per hour heading
to Raleigh Central Prison.
And as we get to the destination,
I'm looking at these big sliding gates
and I said well I guess this is going to be home.
I have life and 54 years.
The gates slid, we enter, I go into get shipped down,
you know checked for contraband and things.
So they handed me a, like a uniform, pant and shirt
that matched, linens and things.
And so as I'm entering the hallway to be proceeded
on to my housing, you know guys be
in the hall yelling fresh meat, fresh meat.
And, and so you know I looked around
and I flew them the bird you know and when I get
to my housing unit, the officer told me, he said you'll be
in this room here on number 22.
So I made my bed, you know I was feeling kind of bad,
you know knowing I'm in a place I shouldn't have been.
And some of the guys approach me,
you know they said what is your name?
How much time do you have?
What charges?
You know. And at that time, I was a mood
to where I didn't feel like talking to anyone.
I just wanted to be left alone.
And I tell the guys that, I said I don't feel
like talking right now.
I'm not in a good mood.
Please leave me alone.
And so I made my bunk and took my pillow, laid back
and propped, you know thinking about what had happened,
where I'm at, how I'm going to deal
with what I'm going through, you know.
And finally, you know I finally began to relax and open
up to some of the fellows, you know.
Knowing that I got to be there, I got to deal
with what I got to, that I don't want to.
But yet still, you know I'm continuing corresponding to
and from my attorneys.
Couldn't make no phone calls.
I had to fill out a visitation list in order for my family
to come and visit me, whether or not they got approved,
that was up to the prison system.
I went through processing and when I used to go
to the chow hall to eat, you know put my tray down,
you know that was other inmates putting their food on the tray
and you know it was just one particular inmate,
they called him New York because he was from New York.
He was muscle bound, toboggan on his head, with holes all in it.
I was, I was string bean being I weighed 100
and probably 80 some pounds.
But my mother, she always told me, she paid me a visit
that she said, boy if you don't soon get out of this jail,
you're going to be looking like a broom handle you know
because I was continuing to lose weight you know
from lack of nutrition.
And I went and completed my process
and I said well I'm going to get a job in the kitchen.
The guy told me, he said, don't go in the kitchen.
He said New York said he's going to get you.
He was talking about New York wanted to rape me,
you know because I was young, slim, no facial hair,
big afro you know and he thought that was sexy.
You know, he'd been in prison for over 10 years and he was
into that type of thing.
I told him my door didn't swing that way, you know.
Every time I go through the chow hall to put food on my plate,
he would say we're going to fatten you up.
You know and I knew what he was talking about, you know.
I could read between the lines.
And finally, after I finished my processing,
they offered me a job.
They said you can either go to the sign plant or the kitchen.
And so you know being out in society, that's what I did.
I used to cook at the Ramada Inn and in seafood.
And I said well I'll go back to the kitchen.
And so they signed me up for the kitchen.
They started me out sweeping and mopping floors and worked my way
up to the dietician's position.
And this guy New York, you know he come around a lot,
you know running his mouth, you know.
What's your name?
You know and so everybody called me Cotton, 100%.
And so he kept on, kept on, you know hanging around.
I got tired of picking up on what I was picking up
and finally I went into work one day at 4 o'clock,
I worked from 4 to 2, 4 am to 2 pm and he come to the table.
I was at a table by myself, which I mostly hung by myself
because I couldn't trust these people, you know.
I don't know them, they didn't know me, so I wanted to be
on the down low and he come to my table one day
and set his tray down and sit and got to talking
and a funny feeling come over me
and so I knew what he had on his mind.
So I stood up, pushed my tray to the side and I said look,
tired of you messing with me.
I said best thing to do you get
up from this table and leave me alone.
And so you know he wanted to fight and I told him, bring it.
And a lot of the other inmates, you know separated us
and I didn't have any more trouble
out of him saying you know he wanted to become associates,
but I felt that wasn't the thing to do
because I knew what his game was.
So I continued on.
I ended up getting in a fight
with another guy named Kenny Hammond.
Kenny Hammond was a guy that had became friends with Bobby Pool.
I was walking down the prison tunnel.
I saw my CO escorting another inmate and I happened to look
over and I recognized this guy.
And I said he looks familiar.
So the next day I was outside playing hand ball,
you know trying to stay in shape and you know knowing I got
to try and deal with what I got to.
I noticed this guy watching me from a distance.
And so I had someone come and take my place.
I approach him and I said, excuse me,
I said, where you from?
He said I'm from Burlington.
I said, I am too, I said you kind of look like the drawing
in the suspect of the crime that they have me in here
for that I did not commit.
[ Laughter ]
And he said, well, I didn't do that.
And I said, ok, so I get to thinking back.
And I said well I recall years ago I was dating a young lady
by the name of Hope.
Me and her and the mother was sitting in the den
and there was a knock at the door
and Hope's mother said go to the door.
So Hope goes to the door and I said, well I'm here to see her
and her mom sitting and now she's at the door,
she's staying too long.
So I gets up and I'm going to find
out you know why she's standing at that door too long.
And it was that same guy.
I remembered him.
I said, ok.
That's the guy I saw at the door talking to Hope.
I told Hope, I said look, I'm here to see you.
He got to go.
So you know he left but, anyway that was the guy
that committed the crime.
Him and Pool became friends.
Kenny, he had been in prison for years, had served 10 years
for a rape and all the rape guys in prison,
a lot of them gather themselves, get together,
get their transcripts and try to see what kind
of loop hole they can find to get back in court.
I mean even the guilty ones, let alone the innocent.
And so Pool, he had a lot of knowledge of the legal system.
And he was trying to help Pool get back in court.
And they'd become real good friends.
And so Kenny, at the time he was calling me Red,
you know running his mouth and stuff like that
and I said, well here I go again.
And so I just tell him, I said leave me alone please.
I said I don't want any trouble.
I said my attorney told me to keep my nose clean, you know.
I have a good-sized nose, so you know I do try
to keep it clean as I could.
So, Kenny, he approached me one night
in the shower, him and two guys.
I was washing my hair and I was rinsing the shampoo I heard the
shower curtain slide, shh.
So I lift up my hair and I looked out of one eye,
trying to keep the shampoo out
and there was two guys standing there,
you know telling me oh you got a beautiful body, you know
and all this and that.
And I said, well look I don't play those games,
I said please leave me alone.
So I didn't want to fight two guys, you know, in the nude.
And they finally, I talked enough to defend myself
to tell them, they went their way.
So the next day, I approached Kenny like a man.
I said, look, I said, those games you
and your buddies playing, I do not play.
I said, leave me alone.
I said I'm tired of you talking junk about me.
And make a long story short, I ended up fighting Kenny.
He was a martial artist guy, you know,
he throw a few round houses on me, that I duck and stuck him
in the throat you know.
I used to box a lot and worked out in prison and competed
with some of the Fort Brag soldiers,
they come on camp and stuff like that.
You know I tried to stay in shape and keep my sound mind
and strong mind to hopefully one day
that the good lord would reveal to the attorney,
some attorney alright, that miscarriage
of justice had been done upon me.
And get out and so, I was being transferred through the system.
This guy Pool, he was on the same unit.
Slept actually in the same dorm.
And I had plans to take his life.
My father paid me a visit and I told him I said, dad, I said,
look, Pool he's here, he's confessed to Kenny
that he committed this crime upon Jennifer
and I'm serving the time.
I said, so I'm going to, I'm going to do him in.
I took, made me a weapon out of piece of metal, out of desk,
took me a shirt, glue and tape, made me a handle
and I had a weapon probably about that long
that I slept every night with it laying across my chest.
And when I saw him walking by, I told him, I said look,
when I get a chance you're mine.
I meant that because I was suffering.
You know yet alone Jennifer, you know.
But still my father he told me, he said Ron,
he said you know you say you innocent.
I believe that.
He said, but if you take that man's life,
then that's why you're going to spend the rest of your life.
So I went back to my dorm and I thought about that laying
in my bunk at night with this weapon laying across my chest.
They called it a shank, that's what they're called.
Some of you may be familiar with that, but some of you may not.
But I said well I could take this shank and set it
to another inmate but what if,
you know someone has to get hurt.
So I walked into the bathroom and noticed an open drain
in the floor and I, I dropped it down,
I listened to it rattle to hit the bottom.
And then I got transferred to another prison called Caledonia.
Sort of like close to Virginia.
Stayed there a few years and they sent me to Hornet County
from there, they put me on an airplane
at Raleigh Durham National Airport in shackle, handcuffs
and the plane said Express One so I looked at that Express One
and I said I guess I'm going one way.
And so they transferred me all the way to Mason, Tennessee.
I stayed there a year and in the process you know started writing
the courts and, and so when I noticed this OJ trial going on,
this DNA testing, I immediately start getting into it,
you know taking notes.
I said well they're trying
to say this DNA testing is 99% accuracy.
I said, well me knowing that I'm innocent, I'm going to request
to my attorney to have this test done in my case.
So they learned that they evidence still existed.
Because the detective which was Galden
at the time had funny feelings
about the case, put it to the side.
And once we learned it still existed they filed a motion
to preserve it to where it couldn't be destroyed.
And they done the test, the results come back,
the prison warden called me in his office that night, he said,
he said Mister Cotton, he said
that the results come back from your test.
The guy committed the crime has confessed,
he said you're going home tomorrow,
but I figure he was telling me a lie, you know.
I said, I don't believe that, you know.
I got life and 54 years you know,
two life but run concurrent.
And so he said that you're really going home.
So I begun to get excited after I was returned to my dorm.
I had accumulated a lot of belongings in prison.
I started out with 5 dollars and opened
up three canteens in dorms.
You know I had guys working for me.
And hate to say, I used to make homemade wine
in prison, you know because.
[ Laughter ]
I mean I had life and 54 years, I couldn't depend on my family,
you know asking them for their hard-earned money.
By me being a dietician, I had access to you know the sugar
and all that stuff, the yeast
and so I said well I'm going to make me some wine.
And I started I had two guys working with me.
And we brought the wine out every payday,
every time it was payday, we had a line of people waiting
in line, dollar cup, three dollars a pitcher, you know.
So we, we looked out for each other, you know.
I worked in the kitchen and I, I had the big milk bags,
you know to make the stuff in and we get the chicken boxes
and get it to fit the bag and the heating system
around the wall, we put the wine in there,
let it cook for three days, go back, check it
and add a little more yeast or sugar, whatever it needed.
And, and it didn't take long, you know.
Guys walking around you know all feeling good you know.
[ Laughter ]
And I hate to say you know, some of them started fights
and all you know but we kind of like looked out for each other.
You know, see a guy, one of the COs was coming,
we always had somebody out watching and hollered a man down
and everybody running, like they planned for.
Cause at Central you know I dug a hole in the ground
with a stick and put a bubble gum bucket in the ground
and took me a magazine and a deck of cards out and a blanket.
If I see the officer coming, you know, I'd take and cover it
up with the plastic, took my blanket,
covered like I'm playing cards.
And when he turned his back, how you doing Cotton?
Doing pretty good and he'd make his rounds.
You know I'm, I'm still mixing you know.
But that day when it all came to an end, I couldn't believe it.
I went back to the dorm and all my belongings
that I had got sent in for me, I, I just inching it
out like a loose cannon you know.
I told them I said, well I'm going home tomorrow.
And you know I used to rent out radios,
a dollar, 50 cent a night.
I sell snack bags.
I get a pint of milk, apple and a juice for 5 dollars a week,
every day, you know that was a snack at nighttime.
I was the dietician.
You know I try to make money, you know.
And that morning the officers come by and I packed my bags,
they took me to a room and I said well I'm leaving.
But yet still, they wanted
to see what I was taking out of the prison.
So they went through my belongings again, you know.
Strip me down and you know, then the whole works.
And I get in the car and they drive me from Mason,
Tennessee all the way to Alaments County
but in the process, they said have you eaten
at McDonald's lately?
I said no I haven't had a burger,
a real burger in a while, you know.
And so we stopped at McDonald's, they took me out, set at a table
and I was still handcuffed and ate my French fries
and drank and enjoyed it.
And we went on to the county jail,
you know made it to our destination.
They serving in the courthouse.
I said well this is the courthouse I was sentenced,
but I didn't know they had built a new one.
So we get tired of going around the courthouse
and finally they stopped a deputy
that was crossing the road and he said,
well that's the new courthouse.
So go in the back way and they take me in a room,
I'm still in prison cloths.
White pants, white t-shirt with a blue collar.
And I'm waiting on them to take the handcuffs off,
but the lady wouldn't, she said, you're not in our custody,
you're in the custody of the DOC,
not the Alaments County sheriff department.
So I'm standing there and my family came
to bring me some civilian cloths and the judge got off the bench
and he gave them a direct order to take the handcuffs off.
She did, I changed cloths and I walk out of the court house
and in the court room and all the media, you know cameras set
up and the DA, he read out the charges and call them out
and my defense attorney, they setting there
and the judge he says well Mister Cotton the charges
against you are now been dropped and you are a free man.
And everybody hugging, crying and the family is all there
and so I had two of my nephews to take my bags.
I walked outside and I looked up at the sky and I said
to myself free at last, but where do I go from here?
You know it was like tossing a baby out in the world
that had been you know lost for years.
So you know I knew I had to learn to crawl before I walked.
And so I said where do I go from here.
And my sister, she said Ron, she said you can come and stay
with me until you get on your feet.
So I stayed with her for 8 months.
I worked two jobs, cooking at the restaurant
and making yeast rolls that [inaudible] and saving my money
and tipping her and putting money back for a vehicle.
And but actually my first job was with Lab Corp, which the lab
that done my DNA testing in Elion.
They offered me a job.
I had another job offer to put mufflers on cars.
I was, I liked tingling with cars.
And I still do today.
And I was going to take that job, but my lawyer, he said, no,
he said don't get that job.
And so I took the lab job, worked there three years
and you know quit and you know the money was getting better
and better opportunities and so you know whenever they,
I had opportunity to make an extra dollar, I leave that job
and go to the other one, you know.
I know I probably could've stayed for the benefits,
but you know I was trying to get on my feet quick
and fast you know and do it the right way.
I met my wife actually at Lab Corp in the break room.
I was sitting in there, eating with another female
and I noticed she walked by and I, I looked and I said,
hmm that's nice right there, you know.
[ Laughter ]
And finally you know the female that was eating with me,
I didn't know that she worked the same lab with her,
so she goes back and tell her what suggestion I said
about her.
You know it wasn't nothing bad,
you know just a compliment on her appearance.
And so the next day I go to the break room and she was in there.
Her name was Robin by the way.
And Brenda, they was sitting there and so I goes over
and I talk and I asked her out and she agreed but,
I held back because you know I didn't,
I didn't have any driver's license or no vehicle
and I didn't want to really go out with a female
and I didn't have no transportation,
you know I didn't want to borrow someone else,
I wanted my own stuff.
You know what I'm saying?
So I got my car on the road and I waited two months
and I went back and asked her out and she agreed.
We goes out and have a good time and things worked out,
we ended up getting married
and we have a 11 year old little girl, will be this year.
Her name is Raven.
That's why I'm right today and you know I end
up getting up with Jennifer.
You know we do a lot of things, you know going out and speaking
and forgiving one another for the right reason.
You know there is no reason for me to hold a grudge at Jennifer
because the mistake she made.
You know women, we all make mistakes.
And you have to learn to live and forgive
and move on, you know.
We may not forget, I mean since this has come to surface,
Jennifer you know she's been an inspiration
to me as well as me to her.
I met her family, she's met my family, we all get along
and that's the way it should always be.
You know. And that's my story.
[ Applause ]
>> If anybody, you know if you want to spend maybe five minutes
or something like that, if there's anybody
that has any questions or anything
of that nature for them.
It's such an extraordinary story, it's amazing.
[ Period of silence ]
Question in the back, yes.
[ Period of silence ]
[ Inaudible ]
The question is whether there's any DNA evidence
from the other rape that night.
>> Is this on?
Ok. There was.
As a matter of fact, that was the DNA that was tested.
My DNA, my rape kit did not have any sperm that could have been,
it was masked I guess with some blood, blood typing.
So the DNA that was actually tested that night was
from the second rape kit
and there was actually just a fragment
of a sperm head that had survived.
So it was really quite miraculous that we had any
to test at all because 11 years had gone by.
And obviously, when it was collected in 84, there wasn't
as much information how to collect it
and preserve it as we have today.
So that was the, the DNA.
And we knew that it had been committed by the same person
and eventually he did, Bobby Pool did confess
that he had committed both of those rapes and he was in prison
at that time, serving for 6 other rapes.
>> Yes, Mary Lou.
[ Inaudible ]
>> Help or information.
I don't know that, I've always been as you could probably tell
by my talking, I'm kind of a strong personality.
So I don't usually ask for help, which is one
of my worst character traits I have.
As far as information, you know I, I did a lot of,
my background was in science,
so I understood the scientific relevance of the DNA test
versus you know human memory.
So I, I understood it.
Through the months, you know we spent a lot of time,
I would talk, I would call Mike Galden or different people
and they, they always filled me in on information.
Like they weren't the kind of people who just kind
of dropped a bomb on me and then walked away with my aftermath,
you know for me to deal with.
So they were, we had one of those really unusual cases
that everybody working
within our case really were amazing people.
So I didn't feel like a lot of the victims
that I talk to now feel.
They're not getting information
and no one's you know no one's helping them sort
through the system.
There's a question.
You're welcome.
>> If I can ask Mister Cotton something.
That really is, I'm very curious about and that is your friends
and family, I mean do, did people at the time
and since express to your feelings about you know cynicism
about the police, about the justice system as a result
of what happened to you?
I mean what, I mean what do they reflect
to you about your situation?
They must feel like a great injustice was done and they feel
like it's something bigger than just your case or, or how do,
how do you feel about it and how do your friends
and family feel about it?
>> Well, my friends and family you know they stuck
by me from the beginning.
And now afterwards that this situation has surfaced
and I'm a free man now, you know they're very happy.
I can't really say what they actually feel
because they doesn't really express themselves other
than knowing that I'm free at last.
No more shackles and I'm glad, you know?
I just have to move on.
You know occasionally they may ask me a question pertaining
to Jennifer, you know, especially you know my daughter.
She asks me questions all the time, you know.
Why did this happen and why did that?
And so you know I have to take time to explain
and express myself to her because see I had to walk
in those shoes and even though there are many out there
that know this case and story, that they may try to,
to tell things different, you know.
And so I prefer for her to hear it
from the horse's mouth which is me.
You know and my family they don't really say anything
about it other than you know they just glad.
>> Ok, I'm sorry.
Thank you very, very much.
Thank you very, very much.
[ Applause ]