“Who is Gerard Richardson? We Should Know And We Should Care”

Bernie Madoff. O.J. Simpson. Casey Anthony. Jerry Sandusky. Jodi Arias. We know those names. All “high profile” defendants at one time in the criminal justice arena. How about Kevin Byrd? Darryl Hunt? Ben Salazar? I didn’t know who those guys were either until I started doing some research this morning. I only did so because of an article I read about Gerard Richardson. I didn’t know who he was either until an article in today’s paper described his ordeal. The post was the size of a small saltine cracker, about 3-4 inches, at the way bottom corner of the newspaper page. I almost missed the tiny post if it wasn’t for my quickly scanning eye catching the words, “Longtime Convict Wins Freedom.”

Richardson has been in prison for nearly twenty years for a horrific crime that he didn’t commit. Yesterday, a judge overturned his conviction and ordered him released. Prosecutors did not oppose the judge’s actions.

Richardson, who is 48 years old, was convicted back in 1995 of murdering 19-year-old Monica Reyes, after her body was found in a New Jersey ditch. The primary physical evidence against Richardson was a bite mark on the victim’s back. Prosecution experts testified at Richardson’s trial almost two decades ago that the bite mark was definitely Richardson’s. Prosecutors also alleged that Richardson had threatened Reyes concerning a $90 drug debt.

Thanks to the Innocence Project and a dedicated team of attorneys, a court recently ordered DNA tests using more sophisticated testing methods than were available in the 1990s. The new DNA tests ruled out Richardson and showed that someone with a different genetic profile actually committed the offense.

This case raises so many issues about which I was extremely eager to write. First, let’s talk about bite-mark evidence. Here’s yet another case which clearly illustrates that this is nothing more than “junk science.” In 2013, The Associate Press announced that their study revealed that since 2000, at least two dozen people convicted of rape or murder based on a bite mark have been exonerated. Some of those convicted spent more than 10 years in prison before their exonerations. Proponents of what I consider to be unreliable, argue that bite-mark evidence was helpful in convicting a number of guilty defendants like Ted Bundy.

Another issue that this case raises is the length of time it took the appellate court to bring about this conclusion. Had most legislators and members of the public gotten their way, Richardson’s appeals would have ended years ago. Candidly, I’m one of the many who at times has thought in frustration, “Why the hell are all these cases taking decades to appeal?” This case serves as a reminder that sometimes it takes as long as two decades until we are able to remedy some gross miscarriages of justice.

In making my final point, I return to the names Kevin Byrd, Darryl Hunt, and Ben Salazar. Those guys, along with Gerard Richardson and 311 other individuals, are members of an unfortunate group who were wrongly convicted. Fortunately for them, eventually their convictions were overturned thanks to a number of factors including zealous and passionate defense attorneys, advancements in science and/or luck. I believe more attention should be given to those “Richardsons” who endure the brutality and horrors of prison for crimes they didn’t commit.