In recent years with a growing number of exonerations of innocent individuals, there needs to be a discussion about who is effected by wrongful convictions. Of course the individual who is incarcerated for a crime he or she did not commit is considered victim number one, but where do the victim’s children fall on that extensive list?
According to the the KIDS COUNT Data Center, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation providing information regarding the well-being of children and families in the United States, 24,718,000 children live in single parent households. That number represents 35 percent of the children in the nation. In Florida, 1,493,000 kids are living with a single parent, which is 39 percent of the children in the state and the number continues to grow yearly.
In 1980, Luis Diaz – father of three – was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a crime he was adamant he was innocent of. Twenty-five years later, with the help of the Innocent Project of Florida and the Innocence Project, Diaz was exonerated. At the time of of his conviction, Diaz’s three children were ages 6, 8 and 14.
CHAT First: Children and Teens First, a website developed by the Children and Families in Transition Project, reports the ages of Diaz’s children were crucial ones for their development. Children in the age group 5 to 8 frequently miss the parent they are not spending time with deeply and can become highly emotional resulting in early depression, and teenagers between the ages of 12 to 18 are more likely to react in anger due to the absence of a parent.
It would be an immense reach to blame wrongful convictions as the primary cause of children growing up with single parents, because numerous circumstances play a part. However ripping a father away from his children at such an acute time in their development to have him labeled as a murderer or rapist is more than cruel; it is also avoidable. Children of Diaz and many of the exonerees were robbed of the chance to have their fathers watch them in school plays, congratulate them for A’s on report cards, send them off to school dances and to create lifelong memories during family vacations; the question remains why.
Imprisoned at age 22, William Dillion had the opportunity to have children of his own ripped away from him after spending 27 years in prison due to a miscarriage of justice. As Dillion mentions the injustice of fatherhood being hijacked from the palms of his hands in Unlock The Truth, his voice cracks, his chin drops, and his eyes water with emotion, and the questions remains, why?
On April 4, 2011, Derrick Williams became the 13th Florida DNA exoneree, but not before serving 18 years in prison for a crime he was innocent of, and almost two decades away from his son Omar Edwards.
Why should innocent children grow up without a parent if they don’t have to? Why should a man be robbed of the the opportunity to be a father if he is willing and able to take on that responsibility? The answer to these questions are buried beneath bad lawyering, prosecutorial misconduct, eyewitness misidentification, unreliable or limited science as well as other elements that make up the body of causes of wrongful convictions. Unlocking the truth can no longer be the job of one, but must be the duty of many. It is truly a myth that only innocent prisoners are effected by wrongful convictions and now that we are aware of the far reach of wrongful convictions, we must do our part to help correct this growing issue, if not for ourselves, then for the innocent children.