By Robert Mann
There is a dramatic scene in the Oscar-winning movie “12 Years a Slave,” in which a black freeman, Solomon Northup, is kidnapped in 1841 after being lured from his home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., to Washington, D.C., where he believes he has been temporarily employed as a fiddle player in a circus company.
Instead, one morning, Northup wakes up in a dank holding pen, sold into slavery. “I was handcuffed,” he wrote in his remarkable 1853 memoir, from which the film got its name. “What was the meaning of theses chains?” he asked himself, terrified and disoriented. Lamenting his sudden enslavement, Northrup wrote, “I felt there was no trust or mercy in unfeeling man; and commending myself to the God of the oppressed, bowed my head upon my fettered hands, and wept most bitterly.”
That disturbing scene haunts me. The inhumanity of selling a human into slavery and shipping his shackled body to a Louisiana plantation was, and remains, a shocking act. Thank God, I thought, such inhumanity – in the United States, at least – is history.
Then I attended a dinner sponsored by the Innocence Project New Orleans, where I learned about the appalling case of Gregory Bright. In 1975, a jury convicted Bright and co-defendant Earl Truvia, both of New Orleans, for the second-degree murder of Eliot Porter in the Calliope Housing Project.
Prosecutors secured their convictions and life sentences solely on the testimony of a single “witness,” a paranoid schizophrenic suffering from various delusions, who gave police information for cash and testified under a false name to conceal her criminal history. The jury knew none of this. There was no physical evidence linking either man to the murder. Bright’s attorney never once visited him in jail as he awaited trial. Prosecutors withheld other vital information from the jury, including a police report, which contained the names of two other likely suspects.
Lest you believe that the cases of Bright and Truvia are isolated, visit the website of Innocence Project New Orleans. There, you will meet Reginald Adams, who spent 34 years in prison for a 1979 murder he did not commit. New Orleans police detectives not only coerced Adams to confess, detectives perjured themselves on the stand. With the help of the IPNO, Adams won his release in May.
Continue reading at NOLA.com at this link.