“Picking Cotton,” a story of wrongful conviction and redemption, was the topic of a presentation Nov. 18 in the Vanderbilt Law School’s Flynn Auditorium.
One of the featured speakers, Jennifer Thompson, was raped at knifepoint in 1984 by a man who broke into her apartment while she was sleeping. The other speaker, Ronald Cotton, was the man she identified as her rapist from a photo and line-up. Cotton insisted he was innocent but Thompson’s positive identification was enough to put him behind bars until 1995, when a DNA test proved Cotton was not Thompson’s rapist. He was released after serving 11 years in prison.
Two years after Cotton’s release, he and Thompson met and became friends. With her help, Cotton received more than $100,000 in compensation from the state of North Carolina for his wrongful imprisonment. They now travel the country speaking about their experiences, their unique friendship and the murky waters of the criminal justice system. Their goal is to raise awareness to bring about reforms in witness identification and capital punishment crimes.
The lecture was cosponsored by the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center, Trevecca Nazarene University, the Vanderbilt Law School Hyatt Fund (through the Women Law Students Association, the Black Law Students Association and the Law Students for Social Justice), the Vanderbilt University Office of the Provost, the Speakers Committee and the Sociology Department.
– Jennifer Johnston, Vanderbilt News Office, 615-322-NEWS