At Long Last, Freedom
by Jay B. Van Story
December 14, 2004

Late last week, Texas prisoner John Michael Harvey received the news he had been waiting well over a decade for. He was being set free. An appeals court had ruled that he was actually innocent.

His freedom came at a huge price, financially and otherwise. There was an expensive, lengthy legal fight. Indeed, his family had spent over $150,000 seeking justice in his case. Both his father and mother died before they could finally see the son they knew was innocent walk out the front gates of prison.

The stress of being falsely imprisoned ate at Harvey so much, he almost died of a heart attack recently, before the age of 40. His life has been left in tatters. He can never get back the many years he has lost. The wife he was destined to have, and the children thy would have raised together, are forever lost.

Harvey was accused of sexually assaulting a 3-year-old girl. As it turns out, the allegation was the product of impermissibly suggestive questioning by her grandmother and a therapist. When the little girl grew into adolescence and realized how she had been used to help falsely convict Harvey, she voluntarily came forward. She expressed anger at the prosecutor for having made her falsely testify as a child against Harvey, against her will.

Even after the alleged victim came forward, Harvey remained falsely imprisoned for years. The prosecutors had careers to protect. It was politics that put an innocent man in prison, and it was politics that kept him there.

The Harvey case speaks to a much larger problem in the Texas criminal justice system. Too often, there is an inexplicable failure by officials to take responsibility when it becomes obvious that someone has been wrongfully convicted. It is a reluctance born out of sheer political selfishness and arrogance. In addition, many politicians don't want the public to realize just how fallible our system is, and that innocent people get convicted far more often than most people believe, due to carelessness, recklessness, and sometimes even maliciousness on the part of officials. 

When an innocent person is wrongly convicted, he or she is literally robbed of their freedom. They are held hostage. It is a unique, excruciating terror. And to be falsely convicted of the despicable offense of sexually assaulting a little girl is the absolute worst nightmare. Prison is particularly hellish for anyone who is convicted of such an offense, rightly or wrongly.

In finding Harvey innocent last week, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals came to a conclusion that almost everyone involved in the case came to years ago. Why must an innocent man remain falsely imprisoned for so long after it becomes achingly apparent that he was wrongly convicted? Why must an innocent man and his family spend so much money and go through so much anguish to correct a mistake that the system has made?

What about the ones who are just as innocent as John Michael Harvey, but never receive the help they need to obtain relief from their false imprisonment?

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