An Unforgettable Story of Mistaken Identity, Grave Injustice, Forgiveness and Grace

    • Season 5
  • 01:03:37
  • 26 March, 2018

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In July 1984, an assailant broke into Jennifer Thompson-Cannino’s apartment and sexually assaulted her; later that night, the assailant broke into another apartment and sexually assaulted a second woman. Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, then a 22-year-old college student, made every effort to study the perpetrator’s face while he was assaulting her. Ms. Thompson-Cannino first chose Ronald Cotton as her attacker in a photo lineup. Soon after, she chose him again in a live lineup – she was 100% sure she had the right man. In January 1985, Ronald Cotton was convicted by a jury of one count of rape and one count of burglary. In a second trial, in November 1987, Mr. Cotton was convicted of both rapes and two counts of burglary. He was sentenced to life in prison plus fifty-four years. Mr. Cotton was unsuccessful overturning his conviction in several appeals, but in the spring of 1995, his case was given a major break: the Burlington Police Department turned over all evidence, which included the assailant’s semen for DNA testing, to the defense. When the DNA test results were reported in May 1995, the district attorney and the defense motioned to dismiss all charges. On June 30, 1995, Ronald Cotton was officially cleared of all charges and released from prison after serving 10.5 years. In July 1995, the governor of North Carolina officially pardoned him. Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton met for the first time after his exoneration and immediately became good friends. They travel around the country working to spread the word about wrongful convictions and reforms – especially for eyewitness identification procedures – that can prevent future injustice.

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Read "Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption" available on Amazon.

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