Innocence Arrested

Albert Johnson was exonerated for a crime he didn't commit, but not before spending over a decade in prison. Why guiltless people get jailed -- and how to stop it.

When I ask him how he's doing -- intending the question as a casual greeting -- he always answers thoughtfully.

"I'm tired, you know?" he says one afternoon on the phone, after he temporarily broke off contact with me when I declined to pay him for his time. "Tired of talking about it. I just want this to be finished. Nobody been helping me. I'm tired of dealing with it, but I got to."

Johnson's not done fighting. He had the force of his own will, the support of his family, and the help of a few good lawyers to fight off one wrongful conviction, but his name has not yet been cleared. Others have even less luck. Because of inertia, politics, logistics, and ignorance, the things that could be done to prevent innocent people from being wrongfully convicted are not being done.

Albert Johnson, a 42-year-old former construction 
worker who spent more than a decade in prison, says 
he has never raped anybody.
Paolo Vescia
Albert Johnson, a 42-year-old former construction worker who spent more than a decade in prison, says he has never raped anybody.
Susan Rutberg, a professor at Golden Gate University, 
started an "Innocence Project" law school class  in 
2001.
Paolo Vescia
Susan Rutberg, a professor at Golden Gate University, started an "Innocence Project" law school class in 2001.

"Don't get me wrong," Johnson said during one of our early conversations, "a lot of people should be in prison. But there's a lot of people in there that shouldn't be in there, that been crossed up. ... Man, I hate to think about it sometimes, you know? A lot of those cats, they give up. Sad, man."

We are sitting in a San Francisco deli. He looks out the window and frowns. His eyes are trained on the passage of cars and people on the other side of the glass. "People really need to get into some of the laws, get into just what is going on, period, in law enforcement and the judicial system," he says.

"We only have a judicial system, not a justice system."

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