Bennett Barbour was convicted of rape in 1978, but was completely innocent. The Virginia resident didn’t match the description of the culprit, had an alibi supported by eyewitnesses, and had a severe bone disease that eliminated him from even physically attempting the attack. Nonetheless, because the victim identified him as the culprit, he was given an 18 year sentence, but was paroled after five years in prison. Now suffering from cancer and having lost his marriage and his relationship with his daughter because of the jail time, the Commonwealth of Virginia says DNA cleared him. The catch? They’ve know this since 2010, but didn’t find him to give him the news.
State officials claim to have mailed a letter with the test results to Barbour’s last four known addresses, but none of those letters ever reached him. Although authorities gave up, it must have not been that hard to find him as Jonathan Sheldon, a lawyer familiar with the case, was able to find Barbour in just a few hours using the internet. What’s even more troubling is that years ago, Virginia authorities realized they were likely convicting innocent men knowing their criminal justice system was riddled with errors. As they investigated the depth of the problem, they have found that indeed many more men—at least dozens, maybe more—might be exonerated using DNA tests. For now Barbour is just trying to survive, having been rushed to the hospital again for his cancer last week.
What's the appropriate punishment for the people responsible for this inexcusably sloppy legal work?