Please Support the National Center for Reason and Justice (NCRJ)

[Note: Friends of Justice is a personal blog. I speak only for myself.]

Dear Friend of Justice,

Many of you are already donors to the NCRJ. If you have given in the past, I hope that you will give again this year. And if you have never given, please connider helping us as well. Giving instructions can be found at http://ncrj.org/donate/

If you choose the credit-card option, you may either specify a lump sum of divide your donation into 12 monthly payments.

I’m also including the letter we recently sent to past donors.

November 8, 2010

Dear Friend of the NCRJ,

Twenty-seven years ago, Massachusetts resident Victor Rosario was sentenced to life for torching an apartment building and burning eight people to death, including children. His wrongful conviction, supported by “junk” forensics, was based on a confession extracted while he was in a delusional state.

When Rosario’s case came to the NCRJ, his chances for justice looked slight. But the NCRJ was long aware of the problems of coerced confessions, especially in cases involving children. We understood junk forensic science in sexual abuse and arson investigations, even before the Cameron Todd Willingham case, in Texas, became nationally known.

Persuaded by the evidence that Rosario was innocent, the NCRJ provided fiscal sponsorship, enabling his supporters to raise money for needed experts. We put his legal team in touch with award-winning journalist Dick Lehr, co-director of the Investigative Reporting Clinic at Boston University. A hard-hitting lead article by Lehr and Jack Nicas in the Boston Sunday Globe brought public attention to Rosario’s plight.

The New England Innocence Project and the Innocence Program of the Committee of Public Counsel Services have adopted the case and provided invaluable legal support and funding for experts. The team will soon file a motion for a new trial. We are proud to have jump started this effort on behalf of an innocent man. And after 28 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Victor Rosario has hope.

This is the kind of work NCRJ has been doing for almost a decade. This year alone, we’ve made remarkable progress:

  • Elizabeth Ramirez and her three co-defendants. In 1994 four young Texas lesbians were falsely accused of molesting children. There was no reliable evidence, and the trial was poisoned by homophobia. Elizabeth was sent to prison in 1997 and the others in 1998. They had neither money nor outside support. This year, the NCRJ has interested the  Innocence Project of Texas, which is preparing to take the case. We have also worked with journalists in Texas and and anticipate an in-depth article soon, with others to follow. Support is growing nationwide, especially in the gay and lesbian community.
  • Jesse Friedman. The Oscar-finalist documentary Capturing the Friedmans (which featured NCRJ Board member Debbie Nathan) won public attention and sympathy for Jesse, who was wrongfully convicted as a teen of multiple charges of child abuse. Finally released from prison but not exonerated, Jesse sought justice in federal court. The court reluctantly denied his motion because it had been filed too late. But  in a virtually unprecedented opinion now making the rounds of legal publications and law schools, the judges sharply criticized the police, the prosecution, and the trial judge. Quoting in their opinion from sources including research and journalism by NCRJ Board members and Advisors, the judges suggested that a miscarriage of justice had occurred, and they urged that the case be reopened at the state level. The Nassau County, N.Y., District Attorney announced that she would form a committee to re-examine the case. We supplied a list of eminent experts and hope Jesse will finally receive a measure of justice.
  • Khemwattie Bedessie. In 2007, this daycare worker, a 38-year-old Guyanese immigrant, was convicted of sexually abusing a four-year-old boy in her care. There was no physical evidence and the boy was improperly interviewed. The main basis for her conviction was a coerced confession. The NCRJ found her a first-rate lawyer, and her appeal is now in court.

The NCRJ must continue to fight for justice for those falsely accused of harming children. We are still the only organization that provides fiscal sponsorship for such cases.

But to live up to our name, we must fight for reason as well as justice. In addition to the falsely accused, there are many who are victims of bad laws or who are cruelly and excessively punished for what they have done. For things to change, we must educate the public.

When the NCRJ began, we fought our battles alone. We now have many potential allies — Innocence Projects, law and journalism schools, organizations striving to reform sex-offender laws, and others. The public has become more receptive to our concerns as the panic harms more and more ordinary citizens.

It is time for the NCRJ to help build a larger movement. We must use the press to get out our message, and become proactive, not just reactive. We want to hire a new staff person to reach out and become the NCRJ’s public face. But we currently lack the necessary funding.

Please help us with a tax-deductible donation of $1,000, $500, or $150 – or whatever you can afford. You can use the enclosed self-addressed envelope or go to ncrj.org and donate by credit card, either a lump sum or in 12 monthly payments. We greatly value your partnership as we take the next step toward reason and justice.

Sincerely,

Michael R. Snedeker, President, National Center for Reason and Justice