There are two things that invariably happen simultaneously when the wrong person is arrested. An innocent person gets burned and a guilty person remains free to do more harm. Even if one isn’t important enough to get the cops and prosecution off its butt to figure out whether it has the right guy, the other should be.
Charging documents state a male entered the couple’s home armed with a gun. Two cell phones were stolen, two teeth were knocked out of the family’s dog mouth and both the man and the woman assaulted.
The woman was raped and sodomized, court records state. Other details of their physical injuries weren’t made available.
It was a horrible series of crimes, certainly the sort of conduct that would push law enforcement to act swiftly. So they did.
Weaver was 19, a high school graduate of Gunn Christian Academy and a restaurant worker in the summer of 2017 when he was charged with three counts of second-degree assault, three counts of first-degree robbery, two counts of first -degree kidnapping, and one count each of first-degree rape, first-degree sodomy, first-degree burglary and cruelty to animals.
The crimes for which Weaver was wrongly accused happened on July 22, 2017. The victims are a couple in their early 40s, and records portray a series of brutal crimes.
The prime motivator for law enforcement, when very serious crimes like this occur, is to find a perp and close the case. The public wants to know that this vicious criminal has been found and taken off the street, and that their protectors and servers are up to the task for which they’re paid and, if they had their way, appreciated.
But note that the key word is “swiftly,” even though speed is only one aspect of the valued police response. There is a more important word, “accurately,” meaning that they not only made an arrest, but that they arrested the right person. The problem is that the two words, the two values, don’t necessarily coincide. They can find a perp fast, or they can find the right perp, but that might take more time. It might not even happen at all, because investigating is hard work and, despite every cop show on TV, police aren’t really very good at it.
According to Weaver’s attorney, Emory Anthony, Weaver was pegged as the suspect through one of his photos on Facebook. Apparently, the attorney said, Weaver bore a resemblance to the real attacker.
A resemblance, as in, “well, he kinda looks like the guy,” which might be said about one, or ten or a thousand, people.* Some of us have unique characteristics that make our appearance stand out. Others, well, we’re fairly ordinary looking. But almost all of us have other people who resemble us, to some extent or another. To say Weaver “resembled” the perp is to say that the silver Prius resembled the getaway car, limiting the focus to a few thousand cars in any given city.
If only there was some way, some scientific method, that could distinguish between someone who “resembled” the perp and the perp. Especially, given the serious and horrific nature of the crimes, which would justify the use of every resource available to law enforcement.
According to court records, the assailant urinated on the victim. DNA samples were taken from the scene. Those samples were turned over to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences and returned to Bessemer police on April 19, 2018.
The results excluded Weaver’s DNA from being found on the victim or at the scene of the crime, according to a motion filed by Weaver’s attorney Anthony, who had repeatedly requested the results. He received them, he said, days before Weaver’s April 1 trial was to begin.
“The untimely giving of the DNA results some 11 months later is prejudicial to the defendant in this case and has violated his constitutional right to timely have evidence showing he is not guilty,’’ Anthony wrote.
It took 11 months to get the DNA results that could have been produced the next day had the prosecution wanted that to happen. But it also took 15 months beforehand to get Weaver’s DNA tested at all, based on his lawyer’s pushing and motion. One might suspect that the cops or prosecutors would have sought DNA testing within minutes of Weaver’s arrest, if for no other reason than to nail down their case against him and prove as conclusively as possible that he was the person who raped and sodomized a woman in her own home.
Why wouldn’t the prosecution want Weaver’s DNA tested as soon as possible, and the results back as quickly as possible? The obvious and only response is that they believed they had their guy, they had enough evidence to convict and they didn’t want to do anything, to allow anything to happen, that might blow their story and conviction. There is no other explanation.
Afterward, the prosecutor spoke of “justice,” since people with short attention spans love justice.
“When the DNA results didn’t match, the only just thing to do for this young man was to have him released immediately with the charges dismissed,’’ said Bessemer Cutoff District Attorney Lynneice Washington. “My office will never knowingly take part in sending an innocent man to prison. That’s not justice.”
And the police were very sad about this grievous mistake.
Bessemer police on Tuesday released this statement concerning the case. “The Bessemer Police Department was shocked by the news, considering the victim’s level of information and cooperation during the investigation. It is important to remember this case involved two victims and two suspects. Through DNA evidence we learned the identity of one of the offenders and that offender has unfortunately died prior to being charged with these crimes. The investigation continues in order to identify the second offender.”
There are few things more powerful on the stand than the victim pointing at the guy at the defense table and proclaiming in a stentorian voice, “I will never forget that face. HE RAPED ME!” The testimony of DNA experts lacks drama, but makes up for it in accuracy.
But now that Weaver lost two years of his life in jail on $540,000 bail that he couldn’t make, what of the guy who committed the rape, sodomy, burglary and urinated on the person, and was left on the street while Weaver sat in his cell? He died in the interim. The people of Bessemer can sleep well at night, knowing that justice prevailed.
*The race of the victims isn’t stated, but if they were white, and this was a cross-racial identification, its value is nearly worthless.