Reasonble Doubt: Innocence Project Co-Founder Peter Neufeld on Being Wrong

In the spring of 1981, a 12-year-old boy was beaten and forced to watch as his 11-year-old female cousin was raped by a stranger in a park in Cleveland, Ohio. Several weeks later, a man named Raymond Fowler was stopped by a ranger for running a stop sign in the same park and brought into the police station for questioning. After hesitating for 10 and 15 minutes, respectively, both the boy and the girl eventually chose Fowler's picture from a photo array. On the basis of that identification, and despite testimony by multiple witnesses that Fowler had been home at the time of the crime, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. This May, after 28 years behind bars, Fowler was exonerated when DNA evidence showed that he was not the girl's rapist. He was 24 on the day he was convicted and 52 on the day he walked out of prison.

With his exoneration, Fowler became the 258th person to be freed by the Innocence Project. Founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, the Innocence Project uses DNA evidence to overturn wrongful convictions while also advocating for reforms to the criminal justice system to help prevent future mistakes. In the interview below, I speak with Neufeld about the origins of wrongful convictions, how police and prosecutors face up to their mistakes (or don't), and why he doesn't speculate about the outcome of his cases anymore. You can read my interview with him over at Slate, temporary home to this blog.

Okay, maybe you don’t have strong beliefs about the “right” way to load a dishwasher, or about your sweetheart’s propensity to do it “wrong.” In that case, either you are unusually saintly or (like me) you don’t own a dishwasher. But you almost certainly get involved in domestic disputes about who’s right and who’s wrong all the time; we all do. Although interpersonal arguments can have a number of causes – from serious and painful breaches in trust to the fact that we haven’t had our coffee yet – an impressive number of them amount to a tug-of-war over who possesses the truth. We fight over the right to be right.