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Episode Markers
  • 03:32
     
    #junk science   
    The hair analysis method used would later become known as junk science, but at the time it was enough for the detectives to pin down a theory that both Owens and Thompson were involved in the crime.
  • 03:44
     
    #Alford plea   
    In what was his eighth version of events, Thompson eventually gave a false confession. Alford plea
  • 05:48
     
    #Alford plea   
    granted a new trial. It would likely be months or even years away. The state offered him a chance to go free immediately, if he did one thing: take an obscure deal called an Alford plea.
  • 06:30
     
    #pleading guilty to avoid death   
    Alford took it, but in court he insisted that he was innocent and he was only pleading guilty to avoid death.
  • 06:47
     
    #prosecutors to keep a win on the books and admit no wrong doing   
    The deal also allows prosecutors to keep a win on the books and admit no wrong doing.

When the only way to go free is to plead guilty

A confounding case in Baltimore shows just how far prosecutors will go to keep a win on the books. Check out ProPublica’s feature story on the use of the Alford plea here: https://www.propublica.org/article/what-does-an-innocent-man-have-to-do-alford-plea-guilty In 1987 police detectives — who’d later be made famous by David Simon, creator of “The Wire” —  used flimsy evidence to pin a burglary, rape and murder case on James Thompson and James Owens. They were both sentenced to life in prison. Then 20 years later, DNA evidence cleared each of them of the rape and unraveled the state’s theory of the crime. But instead of exonerating the two men, prosecutors dangled the prison keys, pushing them to plead guilty to the crime in exchange for immediate freedom. What prosecutors offered was a controversial deal called an Alford plea. Last year, ProPublica investigated prosecutors’ use of Alford pleas and similar deals in cases of wrongful convictions, and found they often cover up off






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