Accuser, Exonerated Man Are Friends
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(March 9) - When Jennifer Thompson identified Ronald Cotton as her rapist in 1984, she was sure she had found the right man. But she was wrong.
Cotton, then 22, was convicted of raping Thompson and another woman on the same night in Burlington, N.C. He would spend the next 11 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit.
In 1995, DNA evidence cleared Cotton of the rapes and showed that another man who was in prison with him was the rapist, a case recently covered by CBS' '60 Minutes'. Now, Thompson and Cotton are friends and have written a new book together on their story, called 'Picking Cotton.'
The two speak on the phone weekly and travel together to speak out on the problems with eyewitness evidence. Even their families are friends.
Thompson said she felt horrible guilt when she found out Cotton was not her rapist. "Suffocating, debilitating shame," she told Lesley Stahl in a CBS '60 Minutes' interview that aired Sunday. She asked Cotton if she could meet with him at a local church.
"I started to cry immediately. And I looked at him, and I said, 'Ron, if I spent every second of every minute of every hour for the rest of my life telling you how sorry I am, it wouldn't come close to how my heart feels. I'm so sorry.' And Ronald just leaned down, he took my hands…and he looked at me, he said, 'I forgive you,'" Thompson told CBS.
"I told her, I said, 'Jennifer, I forgive you. I don't want you to look over your shoulder. I just want us to be happy and move on in life,'"Cotton said.
There have been 233 people exonerated by DNA evidence across the country, and more than 75 percent of them have been convicted at least in part because of faulty eyewitness testimony, Stahl reported.
See video at: CBS 60 Minutes or AOL.
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