‘Stolen Years’: New book tells story of wrongfully imprisoned Longview man
Despite the legal fiction of presumed innocence, the injustice of imprisoning the innocent–our very own modern ‘witch hunts’–continues unabated in shocking numbers.
In the Dark Ages, the thief and the murderer were as likely to suffer the same fate as their 18th century counterparts. The loss of life had dual purpose, as punishment and as an offering to appease the gods. Alas for the victim, human sacrifice was frequently carried out in a hideously savage manner.
Even when Christianity spread across the globe, there was little respite from the bloodshed–perhaps the opposite. The Romans vied with their barbarian neighbors for new and agonizing methods of death, creating a wealth of martyrs in the process.
The gods (and today, the self-righteous) demanded a heavy toll from their earthly followers, human fodder was needed — and who better to pay the ultimate price than felons and thieves? While today, Americans take solace in the theory of separation between Church and State, few seem aware of how the state has virtually substituted itself as a ‘god’ in its own right as they pledge allegiance (worship?) to the flag or hear a judge pronounce they must ignore the principle of jury nullification in finding a defendant guilty no matter how unjust the law or its application, or, indeed, forgetting the very principles of the post WWII Nuremberg trials where we executed condemned Nazis who unsuccessfully argued they were only following the law at the time of their offenses and crimes against humanity.
In the Dark Ages, the ‘erring’ (Galileo?) would find themselves sentenced to death by way of human sacrifice. At the time, it was seen as the best hope of a good harvest (or ‘deterrent’ in modern times) and cure for disease.
Every age had its own method of sacrifice. Given the evidence available today, it is difficult to asses whether all sacrifices were carried out as punishment or whether some died willingly, as messengers to the gods. It is equally hard to tell from excavated corpses whether mutilations took place before death by sacrifice, or after as part of a funeral rite.
The Celts had hundreds of gods to worship. Some were considered greater than others (felonies vs. misdemeanors/infractions?) although only a few had specific purposes, for example, for war, fertility or cure. Julius Caesar noted of the Celts: “They believe that the execution of those who have been caught in the act of theft or robbery or some crime is more pleasing to the immortal gods (Justice?), but when the supply of such fails, they resort to the execution of the innocent.”
Scores of ‘wrongdoers’ were engulfed in flames after being caged in a giant wicker colossus as the Celts imposed a terrifying regime of ‘justice’ under the auspices of the Druids. Alternatively, Celts might shoot victims with arrows or impale them at the chosen holy site. In common with other races, the Celts also burned their sacrifices. Humans were committed to the flames in a giant wicker cage in the form of a god. Dozens of young people might be crammed into such a colossus before a spark ignited the pyre. In attendance were the Druids, the highly organized priest and soothsayer network which inspired the Celts in France, Britain, and Ireland at the time–the equivalents of our prosecutors/persecutors and judges today.
by Marissa Luck
Thomas Kennedy isn’t the only innocent man in the new book “Stolen Years,” but his story may be the saddest.
Author Reuven Fenton devoted an 8,000 word chapter to exploring Kennedy’s story in the book “Stolen Years: Stories of the Wrongfully Imprisoned,” to be released Tuesday.
Kennedy was convicted in 2001 of raping his daughter, then 11, but she later admitted making it all up, prompting the court to toss his conviction. He was exonerated and released from prison in 2012.
“Thomas Kennedy is a very unique case,” Fenton said by phone Saturday. “It’s enough to go to prison for a crime you didn’t commit, but to go to prison for that particular reason is just so horrifying.”
Fenton has covered murder and scandal for the last eight years at the New York Post. In recent years, he’s watched the number of exonerations climb steadily in his state. Once, he attended a press conference for David Ranta, a man who was freed from prison and exonerated in 2013, after serving 23 years of a 37.5 year sentence for the murder of a Brooklyn rabbi. At the press conference, Fenton recalled reporters peppering Ranta with questions like, “What will be your first meal out of prison?” and “What’s the first thing you’ll do when you’re free?”
“I was thinking, this guy had a 20-year long story to tell, and we’re just scratching the surface,” Fenton said. That sent him on a quest to uncover the stories of other wrongfully imprisoned men and women.
After combing through 1600 cases listed with the National Registry of Exonerations, Fenton whittled the cases down to a pool of ten people, including Kennedy. A Cowlitz County lawyer put the two in contact, but at first Kennedy resisted the idea. Eventually his “no comment” turned into an interview, and Kennedy opened up, spending ten to 12 hours with Fenton to tell his story.
Unlike many cases of people who were exonerated, Kennedy didn’t have the help of an organization or lawyer to prove his innocence. After years of filing appeals, the Longview man finally gave up.
“He took this stack of papers and set them down and said, ‘I’m leaving it up to God,’ because the process was just so frustrating for him,” Fenton said. Then, “out of the blue” his mother called him, asked if he was sitting down, and told him his daughter was ready to recant her story.
Yet even after being released, Kennedy suffered from ongoing trauma related to his experience in prison, where he was the target of frequent attacks. Besides the emotional baggage, he barely had enough money to scrape by. At the time when Fenton interviewed him in early 2014, Kennedy was waking up at the crack of dawn to buy and sell wooden pallets, and some days he didn’t make enough money to cover his gas.
Last year, he was slated to receive a $500,000 settlement from the Wrongful Conviction Compensation Act, but the money had been tied up in state budget talks earlier this year. Kennedy told The Daily News he planned to use funds to invest in his grandson’s future, buy land and start a business.
“Thomas, to me, is an example that you can go on living after suffering something that horrific, humiliating and devastating,” Fenton said.
Kennedy and the other nine people in “Stolen Years” are but a tiny fraction of the wrongfully imprisoned people in the U.S. An estimated 2.5 to 5 percent of prisoners are innocent, which means up 100,000 innocent people are behind bars, Fenton said.
“The problem is that there is a culture of police and prosecutors with this desire to win at all costs,” he said. For some prosecutors and detectives, it becomes a numbers game of filling quotas, he added.
That’s starting to change now though, as public awareness grows.
In 1989, the year the University of Michigan Law School started the National Registry of Exoneration, there were just 22 people exonerated, according to the registry. That number grew to 139 last year.
“I think we’re in the midst of that change now, but we’re still very early,” Fenton said.