Finally Free.

Old Rape DNA

After spending 35 years in prison for a rape that he didn’t commit, James Bain was finally released Thursday morning.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Bain made five requests for DNA testing before a judge granted his motion. The testing eventually cleared him of the crime.

Obviously, the state of Florida owes Bain a debt that can never be repaid:

Bain shed his button-down plaid shirt for a black T-shirt that read “Not Guilty” before walking outside to address the crowd. Someone handed him a cell phone — the first time he has ever used one, he said.

“I’m going to see my mama,” he told the crowd. “I just got off the phone with her.”

Family members were emotional after the hearing. A sister wept and could barely talk. A brother-in-law, who was a boyhood friend of Bain’s, was excited.

“I haven’t seen him since he was 16,” Jessie Atmore said. “It’s been a long, long time.

… Bain said he has a lot to catch up on, including his education. He’s not angry, he said, “because I got God in my hands.”

You know, people often refer to any time spent in prison as “hard time.” Well, I can only imagine that spending nearly two-thirds of your life in prison for a crime that you didn’t commit would be the hardest time of all.

How does someone get past this kind of injustice? How does someone stomach having their life taken from them in such a way? How does it feel to be innocent but nevertheless branded a criminal (a convicted child sexual predator, at that)? How does someone maintain even the faintest sliver of hope in such bleak circumstances?

And how do you even begin to start life, basically all over again, at 54?

Is it OK to be angry for him?


Joel Anderson —blackink —  writes about sports, politics, crime, courts, and other issues far beyond his competence at BuzzFeed. He has worked at media outlets in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Atlanta and contributed to a number of publications, including The Root and The American Prospect, among many others.
  • I would imagine that after spending 2/3 of one’s life in prison, it may even seem frightening to not be in prison anymore. Not that prison is easy, but its familiar and unchanging. Readjusting to normal life can be hard on anyone.

    I absconded from Florida when I went to college, but Floridians should be very angry. If not for Bain’s sake, for the sake of a justice system that has essentially failed the public. The state owes the public something substantial as well.

  • quadmoniker

    It also doesn’t do the victims any good. Someone wrote for Slate a few months ago about how rape victim’s can falsely identify their attackers, sometimes affected by subtle hints and pressure from the investigators. It was really sad, one woman who had falsely identified a man said she still saw his face when she remembered the attack, though she knows it wasn’t him. I think we have to do something about the ways cases are investigated: sometimes police feel like they know who did it and build their case around that.

  • Lisa

    Things like this are so sad, but I’m glad this brother got out of jail eventually. I certainly hope the state gives him some kind of serious money, not that it would make up for those years, but it might make life a little easier. He has such a joyous smile on his face which is reassuring. I wish him all the best.

  • This is the most compelling argument against the death penalty, as well: that we get convictions wrong often, and that our criminal justice system is loath to correct those mistakes.

    • blackink12

      This, at the bottom of the story: “Bain is the 246th person in the United States to get exonerated by DNA evidence. Of the 246 released, he has served the longest time in prison.”

      In my mind, there’s no question that we’ve sent an innocent person to the death chamber somewhere in this country (most likely in Texas). The concern, to me, is that we don’t seem all that inclined to prevent it from happening again.

  • April

    I don’t have much to add, but to answer the last question: Hell, yeah!

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  • From what I understand, false convictions are even more likely in death penalty cases, because prosecutors are more willing to cut corners out of fear that not putting someone to death for the horrible crime will mean the voters kick them out. Victims aren’t helped by this attitude, but for people not directly involved, it appears that making someone pay is more important than making the right person pay. Classic scapegoating.