Now Open! The Nifong School of Justice

New Jersey campus.

Larry Peterson fought for more than 17 years to overturn his conviction on charges of rape and murder. DNA testing led a judge to do just that, in 2005.
…after DNA testing of the physical evidence used at trial revealed no trace of Peterson.
…But in April 2006, Robert Elder, a key witness for the prosecution, dropped a bombshell: He recanted his testimony.
Elder was a chronic drunk and drug abuser and had spent years in and out of county jail. He said that he made up the story that he told police in 1987 — that Peterson confessed to Harrison’s murder — to get out of an interrogation that had lasted for three days.
…Without Elder’s key testimony, the state’s case was finished. In June 2006, nine months after Peterson’s release from prison, Burlington County Prosecutor Robert Bernardi issued a statement that he would no longer seek to retry Peterson.
But he framed his decision in the negative: There was not enough evidence to persuade a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, leaving the question of Peterson’s factual guilt open to argument.

What physical evidence they have completely exonerates him. Anecdotal evidence has been recanted. No other evidence connects the man to the crime.
Mr. Peterson is looking for compensation, not surprisingly. “No one wants to hire a man who has been in prison for so long.” Snapped up in the prime of his life, his earning years are behind him.

…Buckman is moving to have Peterson’s record expunged. He is also filing two lawsuits: one for damages under federal civil-rights law and another under the New Jersey law that compensates people who can prove in court, by “clear and convincing evidence,” that they were wrongly convicted and incarcerated.

He has to PROVE his innocence, even though the evidence that proved his guilt has been disproved and discredited. Is NO evidence ‘clear and convincing’ evidence? Where do you go from there?
Statements from the victim’s family should sound vaguely familiar to those who followed the Nifong rampage.

…Despite the DNA results and Elder’s recantation, she still believes Peterson raped and murdered her sister.
If I had my way, Mr. Peterson would be dead,” Harrison says. “At minimum, he would be still in Trenton State [Prison].”

And justice for all.

2 Responses to “Now Open! The Nifong School of Justice”

  1. Dave J says:

    “He has to PROVE his innocence…”
    No, at least according to this story’s version of the NJ statute (for whatever that may or may not be worth), he has to prove he was wrongly convicted. People are sometimes exonerated by evidence that was not available at the time they were prosecuted: that does not, by itself, mean there was malicious intent or even negligence involved in prosecuting them. Remember that a suit against the state is a suit against the taxpayers: statutes waiving sovereign immunity like this have to balance out the interests of an legitimately aggrieved against the fact that those actually footing the bill are not really complicit in the harm.
    “Is NO evidence ‘clear and convincing’ evidence?””
    Depends what the statute actually says he has to prove. BTW, clear and convincing is an intermediate burden of proof, higher than the usual civil standard of a preponderance of the evidence, but less than the criminal standard of proof beyond a reasonable dloubt.

  2. Nightfly says:

    I feel pretty badly for the victim’s family, actually. This guy didn’t do it, and now they have to live with the uncertainty all over again, that this bastard who raped and murdered their loved one never had it brought home to him. I can see how they’d cling to their belief that Peterson was guilty rather than face that. Don’t make it right, but it’s understandable.
    I’m glad he’s been exonerated, but it still sucks all around.

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