It has happened again. A man who served 17 years in prison for three rapes has been exonerated by DNA testing and was freed this week from prison in Missouri.
According to a report by The Associated Press, Lonnie Erby, 49, was convicted in the 1985 rapes of three girls and received a sentence of 115 years in prison.
Finally, this week, he was freed. DNA tests showed that the semen taken from the girls definitely was not his.
It is the second time in St. Louis that a person has served years for a rape he did not commit.
According to the report, more than 300 prisoners across the United States have been released from prison because DNA testing showed they could not have committed the crimes for which they were jailed.
Although it is good to see that hundreds of people have been freed because of new scientific evidence, it is also disturbing that so many innocent people were in jail in the first place.
More disturbing still is the fact that our state continues to drag its feet in providing the DNA testing that could lead to the truth in a number of cases, even though many were decided years ago.
At least one local case has led to the release of a prisoner – Clyde Charles – who tests show did not commit the rape for which he was imprisoned. In that case, though, the Terrebonne Parish District Attorney’s Office had to be forced to listen to reason.
The state as a whole, too, continues to lag behind in the effort to reach truthful conclusions based on scientific evidence.
Doing so, after all, results in two positive reactions. First, people who are not guilty can be proven so and released from the prison system. Second, and as important, prosecutors and law enforcement officials can be alerted to the fact that murderers or rapists are still on the loose and can continue their investigations.
The only reasons not to provide the testing are practical in nature. It would cost too much or take too long, some opponents of it say.
Of course, every case cannot be retried, but when there is a reason for doubt and DNA evidence still exists, there can be no excuse for allowing wrongly jailed inmates to waste away while the real killers and rapists roam free.
The state has a mechanism for providing DNA testing for prisoners but it has never been adequately funded.
We urge our local delegation in Baton Rouge to take up the call next term and do something to rectify this shameful situation. Louisiana continues to look on as other states release those who are not guilty.
When will we join the effort?
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