It has become a sadly, depressingly common tale: An innocent person goes away for a murder or other major crime he or she didn’t commit, and despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the legal authorities ignore the evidence and keep the innocent person locked in prison for decade after decade.
Very rarely, the innocent gets out of prison, and often when they do, it’s the result of heroic lawyers, and also, very often, heroic work by journalists.
You may remember a few years ago I wrote about the incredible job Pamela Colloff, a writer for ProPublica and the New York Times Magazine, did investigating the case of Joe Bryan, a Texas man accused of killing his wife, who had spent the last 30 years in prison for a crime blood evidence clearly showed he didn’t commit. (And seriously, you’re home and quarantined and have all kinds of time on your hands, go ahead and read that piece. It’ll take an hour or two but it’s so, so worth it.)
Colloff, who for my money is the best investigative journalist in America, meticulously showed how it was impossible for Bryan to have committed the crime, and also showed how absolutely bogus the evidence was that was used to convict him.
Through seven parole hearings over the years and numerous dashed hopes, Bryan was rejected for parole and seemed destined to spend the rest of his life behind bars for a murder he most certainly did not commit.
And then, a miracle happened. Through the massive attention brought on by Colloff’s stories, and great work by Bryan’s lawyers, a sudden reversal happened:
This spring, after Bryan came up for review an eighth time, the board reversed course, and on March 19, it agreed to parole him. The reason for the board’s change of heart is unknown; its deliberations are confidential and exempt from state open-record laws. But its actions followed a concerted effort by his parole attorneys, Allen and Shea Place, and his family to win his release.
But Tuesday, in Huntsville, Texas, Joe Bryan walked out of prison after 33 years he never should’ve served.
He greeted his family, and the 79-year-old got to go home last night to a world without the bars he’s lived with for so long (It’ll be bitterly ironic and disappointing for him in his first weeks as a free man that no one is allowed to leave their house much right now, after decades not being allowed to go anywhere.)
Justice delayed is justice denied, that’s absolutely true. But sometimes, through the power of the press and dedicated lawyers, justice finally gets done.
Thrilled for Joe Bryan, and major kudos to Colloff.
**Next up today, a pretty fascinating story from my friend Jon Wertheim and “60 Minutes.” It’s been an open secret for a few decades now that unscrupulous basketball middlemen have lured young, tall, athletic kids from Africa to the U.S. with promises of college scholarships, and future NBA riches.
Once the kids arrive, they’re often moved to other schools before even making one layup, and thrown into the scary wilderness of amateur sports without anyone to help or guide them. Often they’re left to fend for themselves and treated like cattle by agents who just see them as a path to riches.
Tacko Fall, the 7-foot-6 giant now playing for the Celtics, was one of those kids, and he’s vowed to try to help fellow Africans avoid this.
It’s a really, really good story by Wertheim and “60 Minutes.” Watch it here.
**Finally today, a very cool story from Brooklyn, where a big local restaurant has converted itself into a soup kitchen during this awful pandemic.
From WABC-7 News: “Olmsted Restaurant owners Max Katzenberg and Greg Baxtrom Many restaurant workers survive on tips; others barely make above minimum wage.
The owners themselves had to let go of at least 60 of their people.
On the first night of the soup kitchen, nearly 200 people showed up.
“The irony is if it’s successful just how terrible that is, having to cook for all the people who normally cook for you it’s sad,” Katzenberg said.
The soup kitchen got kick-started by the Lee Initiative, a restaurant-worker relief program.
The folks at Olmsted hope donations can keep the soup kitchen going as long as there’s a need.pivoted from running a restaurant to cooking and providing for their brothers and sisters who were laid off due to the novel coronavirus.
“It’s something our workforce needs after 250,000 were laid off overnight with a minimum unemployment benefit, our people need food,” Katzenberg said.
Awesome job, guys. It’s awful that this is needed, but I’m sure it’s much appreciated. All over New York, my fellow New Yorkers are doing amazing things these days.