The Bible has a lot to say about forgiveness and far too often the temptation is to let the hard reality of this subject remain wrapped neatly inside theoretical applications. Wrongfully convicted and sentenced to life in prison, Ronald Cotton had no such luxury.
Southern Adventist University students will soon get a chance to hear Cotton's surprising path to peace during convocation on January 26 as Cotton and Jennifer Thompson-Cannino present Innocence & Redemption, the story of a failed eyewitness identification, a wrongful conviction, and ultimately forgiveness that has led to a lasting friendship.
In 1984, Thompson-Cannino was raped. When asked to identify her attacker in a photo lineup, she identified Cotton. A week later she was asked to return to the police station and identify her attacker in a physical lineup. Again, she identified Cotton.
After trial and the judicial process, Cotton, 22-years-old at the time, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. All the while he maintained his innocence.
According to innocenceproject.org, “Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing.”
In 1995, after spending more than 10 years in prison, Cotton was released after DNA evidence proved that he was not the perpetrator.
Thompson-Cannino felt terrible about her mistake. After two years of agonizing guilt, she reached out to Cotton and asked if he would meet her. He agreed and they met at a church for a very emotional exchange where Thompson-Cannino apologized to Cotton.
“Ronald felt anger toward me for sure, but in 1987 [while still in prison] he forgave me due to his faith in God,” Thompson-Cannino said.
At convocation, Thompson-Cannino and Cotton will share information about memory, failed eyewitness identifications, evidence contamination, the need for judicial reforms, why they believe the death penalty does not work, and the power of forgiveness.
Associate Chaplain Kevin Kibble knows that forgiveness is a topic many have chosen to ignore because the act can be so brutally honest in pointing out the true nature of our hearts.
“It [forgiveness] is a dusty box way back in the darkest corner of our minds. We have just walked away from tough circumstances instead of inflicting grace in the strange act of forgiveness.”
Innocence & Redemption will be presented on January 26 at 11 a.m. in the Iles P.E. Center, and again at 7:30 p.m. in Thatcher Chapel. Admission is free and the public is invited, but parents are cautioned that the mature nature of some content makes the talks inappropriate for younger children. For more information visit pickingcottonbook.com.