In 1995 Brian Franklin, then a Fort Worth police officer, was convicted of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl. The case hung on the accuser’s testimony (as most sex assault cases do, especially when they don’t involve DNA evidence). At trial, the girl testified that Franklin, a friend of her father’s, raped her in father’s backyard during spring break 1994. The girl said that before the rape, she’d never had sex before. Later she accused her step-father of raping her for years – starting when she was 6 years old. How could she say that, at 13, she’d never had sex before Franklin allegedly raped her – but also claim that she’d been repeatedly raped by her father since 6?
Franklin’s lawyers have been fighting to get him a new trial for years. In 2000 a district judge (a judge at the trial court level) ruled that the girl had perjured herself and recommended Franklin get a new trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed that the evidence “certainly calls into question her veracity in general,” but decided that the principle witness lying in a case where there is no forensic evidence wasn’t enough to give a new trial. That’s right: they denied Franklin a new trial even though the girl’s veracity – whether or not what she said was the truth – was now being seriously questioned. Instead, they ruled that someone in Franklin’s shoes would have to go further and actually prove his innocence.
[As an aside – how asinine is that? What’s the purpose of ordering a new trial if the highest court in the land has already determined that the wrongfully convicted man has affirmatively proven his innocence? Shouldn’t the bar be lower – like when the evidence seriously calls the verdict into question…?]
Fast forward to present day: Franklin’s lawyers have kept fighting for him and this time the Court of Criminal Appeals has changed course. So Franklin’s accuser – now 33 years old – is set to testify again today.
Franklin needs a new trial, and not just because that’s justice for him. We the public deserve to know that our system gets it right. I will never understand procedural roadblocks the law throws up in the face of righting past wrongs. The law justifies this sort of thing by saying that we should give nearly complete deference to the verdicts a jury renders. Why? Juries are made up of people. People make mistakes. Doesn’t it make more sense to have a system that is flexible enough to acknowledge when mistakes have been made and, oh, I don’t know… fix those mistakes? Especially when we’re not deciding for ourselves in a vacuum, but allowing a new jury, hearing all the facts, to make it’s own decision?