At the wrong place, at the wrong time. Would people believe you if you were suspected of, say, killing someone and you say that you just happened to be at the wrong place, at the wrong time?
Well, I wouldn't know anyone in person who were wrongfully accused of committing a crime that they did not commit and were convicted of it. But how can we really know if the accused is innocent or not?
That's where evidence and eyewitness accounts should come in to tie up the stories with the facts. But even then, can we be 100% sure about it? Because if we can't, then we're going to ruin an innocent person's life.
“I tucked Joel in, but I feel so guilty I didn’t hold him longer,” Julie Rea said, her voice welling with emotion. That is all she can muster about the worst night of her life. As she tries to say more, she breaks down.
The story remains, still, almost unspeakable. In the early morning hours of Oct. 13, 1997, Rea was jolted awake by a scream. She discovered an intruder, but saw no sign of her son, in her Lawrenceville, Illinois, home. She told police that she struggled with the man, who fled. Then ran for help. But it was too late. Her son, 10-year-old Joel Kirkpatrick, had been stabbed to death.
At the time of the murder, Rea was a single mother working toward a doctorate in educational psychology. She had divorced Joel’s father three years earlier and was leading a quiet, uneventful life in the wake of a turbulent marriage. The mild-mannered daughter of missionaries, Rea had devoted herself to her bright, inquisitive son.
But in 2000, after a protracted and deeply flawed investigation, Rea was charged with killing Joel.
Read about Rea's story on ProPublica.
(Image credit: Benjamin Rasmussen/The New York Times via ProPublica)