Wrongful Convictions: A New Exoneration Registry Tests Stubborn Judges

By Andrew Cohen

May 21 2012, 10:42 AM ET 62 A recent tally shows that hundreds of Americans have been imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit.


Last Friday, The New York Times published a memorable story about a man, Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, who came late in life to regret an episode that marks his legacy as one of the nation’s most famous and controversial psychiatrists. In 2003, the Times‘ reported, Dr. Spitzer had undertaken “a poorly conceived” investigation “that supported the use of so-called reparative therapy to ‘cure’ homosexuality.” Now, nine years later and wracked by Parkinson’s Disease, Dr. Spitzer decided it was time to recant. “I believe,” he wrote in the same journal in which the 2003 piece had appeared, “I owe the gay community an apology.”

The story is notable, sadly, in part because it seems so rare these days for public officials, or even public figures, to acknowledge the evolution of their beliefs, to publicly recognize their capacity to learn through life’s experiences, and to candidly admit that they were once wrong. A basic lesson we teach our children — learn from your mistakes! — is subsumed by the cynical priorities and pressures we feel all around us as adults.

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