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A Cold, Dark Heart in Wyoming


Recently an inmate in Wyoming was released after serving 24 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Many states recognize the injustice suffered by the wrongfully imprisoned and require the state compensate the victim. When our system of justice fails it can have disastrous consequences for those victimized. The criminal justice system is not infallible, and when it makes a mistake that costs a person most of his adult life there is a method of providing monetary compensation.

In Wyoming the State Legislature decides if the innocent is worthy of compensation and how much. In this case, Mr. Andrew “A.J.” Johnson had a criminal record prior to his being incarcerated for 24 years for a crime he did not commit. You might think that spending 24 years in prison is worth some kind of compensation. You might think that 24 years of your life spent wasting away in a prison cell, when you are innocent of the crime charged, would be worthy of some type of compensation by those who wrongfully took your freedom and liberty away. In Wyoming, you would be wrong.

You see, Mr. Johnson had a criminal record prior to his being wrongfully accused and convicted and put away. He had a record for theft and burglary. In Wyoming that means the legislature does not feel it necessary to compensate him for the 24 years spent in prison. In fact, Mr. Johnson was awarded nothing. He was given no compensation for losing most of his life to a criminal justice system that failed him.

The moral of the story is that if you are wrongfully accused, wrongfully convicted, and wrongfully imprisoned, you better not have any kind of prior record. The theory in Wyoming must be that if you didn’t do this crime you must have done some other one and so they imprison you and assume you deserve it for something else. So what if you didn’t do this crime? You must have done something else.

That’s a hell of an indictment of our justice system. Makes you wonder if Wyoming should rename their system leaving “justice” out of it.

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