[Faith] Restoring Stolen Years | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

[Faith] Restoring Stolen Years

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"Your honor, we the people of Mississippi find the accused, Cedric Willis, guilty of murder."

The people of Mississippi were wrong. They made a mistake for which Cedric Willis paid a heavy price—12 years of his life. In March this year, the mistake was corrected on the basis of evidence that was known at the time of his trial. The people of Mississippi, represented by the district attorney's office and the trial judge, precluded the jury from hearing this exculpatory evidence. It was a shameful travesty of justice. We the people unjustly incarcerated an innocent young man.

It is hard enough to serve a prison sentence even when guilty. I know from personal experience how rough prison life is because I, too, served time in a long-term prison. Unlike Cedric, I had broken the law, and jail time was just punishment for my crime. Life in prison is no picnic. I can barely imagine how hard it must have been for Cedric, an innocent person, to do hard time for no good reason. Twelve years is a long time, and even one day was too long for him to be unjustly cut off from his family, his beloved grandmother, his mom, his sister and especially his son, C.J.

Mistakes can have devastating consequences. In Cedric's case, we the people devastated his life. He was denied the opportunity to learn a trade, find a bride and build his life. The American dream was replaced by a Mississippi nightmare.

He is due an apology. He also deserves some form of restitution. After all, ultimately we are responsible for the grave mistake that was made in our name. We the people robbed him of a big chunk of his life.

We all make mistakes. Sometimes, we mess up badly, and when we do, the consequences are often calamitous. Throughout the world, the criminal justice system makes mistakes. The U.S. is neither different nor better; we should not be too shocked when trial juries make mistakes. After all, they're only human.

What should we do when we mess up and others are hurt because of a mistake?

We know the answer: It is contained in the morality we endeavor to impart to our children. We must acknowledge our mistake, be contrite, say "sorry," learn from the error and fix it, as we are able. We have no other redemptive recourse. This is the pattern expressed in the best traditions of all great religions. Confession, contrition, repentance and restitution truly are good for the soul. If our mistakes were bereft of any possibility for restoration, the only thing left would be brokenness and damage. But thank God, there is usually a remedy for our mistakes. It is possible for us to be defined by more than our mess-ups—but only if we are willing to acknowledge our wrongdoing and respond with a kind spirit and restorative actions.

That's why I consider Cedric's case to be a deeply spiritual matter. How we respond to injustice in our neighborhood describes how we will do so everywhere. It expresses the quality of our humanity and articulates the integrity of our religion. To use the language of my personal faith tradition, "How Christian are we, really?"

The landscape of Jackson is dotted with hundreds of churches. That may be good for the community—it all depends on what kind of spirit resides within. What is the meaning of the "good news" that flows so vocally from thousands of pulpits in relation to Cedric or others who have been violated because of society's mistakes?

The socio-judicial system that made such a dreadful mistake is wholly unrepentant. The State of Mississippi says it does not owe Cedric any recompense for the years that were stolen from him. I believe that's un-Christian. The judge who ordered Cedric's release declared: "I believe you were innocent 12 years ago, and I believe that you are innocent today. The wheels of justice grind very slowly, but sometimes they grind in the right direction." They need to grind some more if justice is to be fully done to Cedric.

Justice denied is injustice. Unless some form of restitution is made to Cedric, there is no justice. We owe it to Cedric to make it possible for him to make a fresh start in life. He was denied the opportunity to make a living and accumulate the material assets to which we all aspire. He was cheated by the very system we depend on to protect us and preserve our basic human rights. That system has washed its hands of him, and that stinks. If only some public official had reached out to Cedric on behalf of us all, to render an official apology on behalf of the institutions of the state; to tell him we are sorry that he was made to suffer because a mistake was made—only then will some sense of moral decency be restored in this regrettable saga.

As a foreign resident who truly loves this wonderful state, I sometimes wonder about the reluctance of officialdom in America to admit, "We are sorry; we made a mistake." In South Africa, we joyfully learned the redemptive and reconciliatory value of saying, "Sorry, we were wrong. Please forgive us."

Despite this moral lapse by the state of Mississippi, I am hopeful that the people of Mississippi will, as a matter of Christian conscience, rise to the occasion and express their sorrow for the wrong done to Cedric. Mississippi prides itself on the compassion and charity of its people. In this instance, charity should include Cedric. He neither seeks nor deserves the indignity of a hand-out, but after spending 12 years in a lonely prison cell, he justly needs and deserves a hand up.

Visiting with Cedric is a humbling experience. Sitting in our lounge, speaking quietly, he exhibited no anger or bitterness. He is simply grateful to be home. I sense he is slowly recovering—every now and then he smiles, and an appreciative sparkle lights up his face. He took time during those interminably long years to reflect on how he would like to productively spend the rest of his years, and he quietly spoke of his hopes for the future.

I hope we might accept that we have a moral obligation to assist him, as an act of restitution for the stolen years.

What can we do?

First, I invite you to tell him you are sorry that our mistake, society's mistake, cost him 12 years of his life. We cannot give back those years, but we can soften the injustice by stretching out a hand of friendship. Feel free to write him, c/o Brian Johnson, at the Jackson Free Press. Your letters of support and best wishes for the future will be given to Cedric.

Second, I invite you to contribute financially to a fund we've established to assist him with start-up capital as he makes plans for the next 12 years. He would like to finish more schooling. He's hoping to start a small business. At the least, he would like to spoil his son and his mother in this special season of goodwill. He is excited to be home for Christmas.

Checks can be sent to Sherry Russum, Galloway U.M. Church, P O Box 1092, Jackson 39215—kindly indicate Cedric Willis on the memo line.

Welcome home Cedric. And sorry for "the years the locusts have eaten." Have a truly blessed Christmas season with your family and friends. It's a great time of the year. We know—we've freely enjoyed them these past 12 years.

Rev. Ross Olivier is a minister of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa serving on temporary assignment at Galloway United Methodist Church.

Read the original story by Brian Johnson on Cedric Willis here.

This story has been corrected from the print version.

Previous Comments

ID
84803
Comment

This is a great, great article. My opinion of Brother Olivier just went up about ten notches. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2006-12-13T20:39:47-06:00
ID
84804
Comment

Yes, Tom. Rev. Olivier called me a number of weeks back so touched by Brian's story about Cedric. We had been talking some on here about doing a music benefit for him, but what the good reverend proposed was so much bigger. Everyone should know that donations of just a few dollars are most welcome. Oh, and if you want to send those letters to Cedric, just address the envelope to: Brian Johnson Jackson Free Press P.O. Box 2047 Jackson, MS 39225 Fax to: 601.510.9019

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-12-13T21:58:46-06:00
ID
84805
Comment

Everyone please be sure to tune in to WLEZ 103.7 at noon today to hear Rev. Olivier speak about Cedric and Mississippi. We taped the interview yesterday, and it's quite moving.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-12-15T11:53:52-06:00
ID
84806
Comment

I'll listen unless an emergency calls me away.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-12-15T12:25:43-06:00
ID
84807
Comment

I can't overstress the need for criminal lawyers to be gladiators in order to prevent this kind of injustice. Jerry Spence, a great trial lawyer, once said "The problem is that we lawyers, have forgotten how to speak to ordinary folks... lawyers long ago abandoned ordinary English. Worse, their minds have been smashed and serialized, and their brain cells restacked so that they no longer know how to explode in every direcrtion -- with joy, love and rage. They can not see in the many colors of feelings. The passion is gone, replaced with deadly droning of intellect. And the sounds we make are all alike, like machines mumbling and grinding away, because what was once free -- the stuff of storytelling -- has become rigid, flanges and gears that convey nothing... I totally agree with this. It's shameful, unethical and arguably criminal what we lawyers let happen to people who don't deserve it. Some defendants, probably most, are guilty. Even those deserves good and dedicated lawyers.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-12-15T12:46:40-06:00
ID
84808
Comment

Good show. I especially liked that Lynn Drury and the last band. It's not easy to keep my ear. I almost quit on Lynn without listening to the song. She didn't hook me quickly enough with the music. As a Motown fan you have to hook me quickly. Her voice saved her. I like the blending sounds of her voice and the music. I like the tone of her voice. It reminds me of other artists I like. I liked the other group too. Jessie was the usual Jessie. I have one of his cds already. He knew my cousin, Tommy Carter, another very good guitarist. I gotta get out my rocking chair and go hear some blues. Once I make it to the house I usually stay. The Cedric Willis episode was a good one. Good lead in story too. and commentary. I hope the story affects lawyers too. Todd has a good radio voice. He has an objective feel about him. Don't know if that was the goal or intent or not. Again, I'm the kind of person who has to be hooked quickly. I don't know much but I imagine most people have to be hooked quickly also by great pre-announced content of the show or a spectacularly appealing lead in or commentary. I liked the show but I'm bias. BTW, I liked the other 3 guests too but I can't remember their names except the revern. Smile.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-12-15T14:06:14-06:00
ID
84809
Comment

I’m very, happy for Cedric & his family. Glory be to God that they are all again reunited. I will apologize ahead of time for flipping the coin so fast, but I’m troubled because as I read this story the word “mistake” appeared quite a lot of times. Don’t get me wrong, this peice is well written as was Mr. Johnson's. Maybe it’s true that a mistake was made by Jury in this case, but this WAS NOT a mistake on the part of the Prosecutor’s. The MS Rules of Professional Conduct for Lawyers, 3.8-clearly states that a prosecutor in a criminal case shall refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause AND make timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence ... http://www.mslawyer.com/mssc/profcond.html The word “mistake” when applied to both prosecutors’ action, DOES NOT fit at all. They both knew Mr. Willis’ DNA test results were negative and continued lying to the jury, obstructing justice, and perjuring themselves all throughout the entire proceedings. Directly from Mr. Johnson’s Article – “When the DNA test results came in, they showed unequivocally that Cedric Willis could not have been the rapist. The police tested Cedric’s DNA again in disbelief, but the results were the same. . . Nevertheless, the prosecution, led by then-District Attorney Ed Peters and Assistant D.A. Bobby DeLaughter, proceeded with the murder indictment. They also moved to have the rape evidence excluded from the trial, …. Ballistics testing showed that the same weapon had been used in all the crimes." The real truth is this was not a wrongful conviction by an ILLEGAL CONVICTION. IT WAS NO MISTAKE. Why did the Prosecution move to have the rape evidence excluded from his trial? Why did they ignore his alibis? This was criminal behavior in every sense of the word. So you see, in my most humbled opinion, the real apology to Cedric would be for the State of Mississippi to prosecute both these prosecutor's for his own criminal actions. Finally, it is not unless and until the People of Mississippi punish the corrupt prosecutors in this case, will they REALLY and TRULY APOLOGIZE to Mr. Cedric Willis for the 12 years the State stole from his life.

Author
blackwhitehuman
Date
2006-12-16T14:54:38-06:00
ID
84810
Comment

blackwhitehuman, I sympathize with your reaction, bwh. The prosecution also moved to exclude robberies with the same MO because Cedric could not have committed them--he had an alibi, but there was a brief window during which he could have committed the murder. When I was showing this case around to various attorneys, they all pretty much agreed that the prosecution wandered into very murky territory legally. (I don't think the prosecutors could be prosecuted for how they tried the case because they have qualified immunity.) Legalities aside, the immorality of what they did is something you feel in your bones. This brings up the other parties that were hurt by Cedric's incarceration: the victims. It is just stunning to me that when the police discovered that Cedric could not have raped that poor woman, who was brutally raped in her front lawn, they just stopped looking for a suspect. Prosecutors moved to have the rape evidence excluded from Cedric's murder trial. NONE of them seemed to give a second thought to the fact that there was still a rapist out there! Nor did they consider the OBVIOUS possibility that the rapist they had not yet caught was the perpetrator of all the crimes. Whoever committed these crimes got away with it, courtesy of the Jackson Police Department and District Attorney Ed Peters.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-12-17T20:13:09-06:00
ID
84811
Comment

Also Judge Breland Hilburn, who presided over the first trial.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-12-17T20:26:08-06:00
ID
84812
Comment

i think who ever did the crimes is dead or in jail God don't like ugly and the way they was talking about this man he was robbing and shooting men in there legs just about every night. and it was still going on while cedric was in jail and with the same gun now tell me how screwed up the court system is. they over fill your mail-box when u have a unpaid ticket. they worry about the small things instead of the big things and what do they do with the money from tickets and fines, they should be fixing the street cedric hit a pot hole last week and the whole tire came off and my truck axel is broke due to a pot hole i hope this don't offend anyone there r to many black people in office they just like the name that they carry in office. i'm in the nursing feild and i see it all the time but i have learned that white people r the best i love them all and since cedric has been out more white people have showed him more love than anybody(oh not me) well i'm go get cedric on-line and talk to you all i'm teaching how to use the computer. oh do any of you work on computers i think my hard drive need to be cleaned and i also think it has a viruse

Author
cedric willis i'm free
Date
2006-12-17T21:37:57-06:00
ID
84813
Comment

Brian, Sure, they have some type of immunity. But that still doesn't mean a complaint should not be filed with the attorney disciplinary board for clearly breaking ethical rules. Something must and should be done about wrongful convictions and victims being left vulnerable as in Cedric’s case and many, many, many others. This madness has been ignored and unnoticed for far too long and many suffer for the actions of a few. Ced's Girlfriend, You're right. There are so many people who have chosen to not look back once they've obtained a title. But one thing is for sure, the same people the met on the way up, will be the same people they’ll meet on their way down. I've seen it happen over and over again. All in all, people need to realize we're all just human beings. Scientifically, we’re all 99% percent alike. And as far as that goes, whenever I fill out any type of application or document, which requires race, I will be checking off other. The fill in answer will be HUMAN. I like to remind people that the Underground Railroad would have never worked without the kindness of white people and that America would not be so rich without the free labor of black people. I've taught myself to see people as the color of water: not black, not white, not any color. With everything going on right now in the world, and as hated as America is now; American's will not have a choice but to come together as one, or life as we know it will cease to exist sooner or later. We just won’t survive with so many enemies all around the world. Oh about your computer – try a school (trade or college) with an electronics program. It should be a free service.

Author
blackwhitehuman
Date
2006-12-17T22:15:17-06:00
ID
84814
Comment

There was an error in the address in this column. The address should be: Sherry Russum, Galloway U.M. Church, P O Box 1092, Jackson 39215 If any of you have sent letters or checks that were returned to sender, please use this address and try again.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2007-02-01T17:08:33-06:00
ID
84815
Comment

This is a call to Queen601. I have a Cedric Willis matter I would like to discuss with you, so please e-mail me at brian [at] jacksonfreepress.com or call me at 601-362-6121 x7. Thanks.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2007-02-22T10:20:09-06:00

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