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100 percent sure he raped her. 100 percent wrong. The story of Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton

In 1984, Jennifer Thompson was raped in her apartment near Elon University. During the ordeal, she memorized everything she could about her rapist. At the police station later, she helped a sketch artist come up with a likeness. Faced with a picture lineup, she picked out a photo of Ronald Cotton. The police officer told her she had done well. During a physical lineup, she again picked out Ronald Cotton.

She was 100 percent sure Ronald Cotton was her rapist. She had not one doubt.

Only she was wrong.

Eleven years after being convicted of raping Thompson, Cotton walked out of prison when DNA proved another man had done the crime. Thompson feared he’d find her and kill her for her mistake, but all Ronald Cotton wanted was an apology.

The two met at a church so that Thompson could offer what she could. They’ve been friends ever since. Together with a writer, they produced the book “Picking Cotton” ( They travel the country, often together, and talk about their experience and the need for judicial reform. They want police to change how they do lineups. They want people to realize why eyewitnesses can be wrong. They want an end to the death penalty.

And Thompson wants people to know how Ronald Cotton taught her about the power of forgiveness.

Thompson recently spoke to an honors law and justice class at Broughton High School. It was one of the most gripping presentations I have ever seen.

Here are my notes about her talk. They are NOT verbatim.

1360275443 100 percent sure he raped her. 100 percent wrong. The story of Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton The News and Observer Copyright 2011 The News and Observer . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Hospira halts Rocky Mount production of death penalty drug

Hospira doesn't plan to resume production of a key lethal injection drug, which had been made at its massive manufacturing plant in Rocky Mount, after running into opposition from Italian authorities about making the drug in that country.

Halting production of sodium thiopental could disrupt executions in states already struggling with a shortage of the drug.

Hospira wanted to shift production of the drug from Rocky Mount to a plant in Italy that has "state-of-the-art production lines," said spokesman Dan Rosenberg. But Italian authorities insisted the company control the product's distribution to guarantee it wouldn't be used in executions, the Associated Press reports.

After discussions with Italian authorities, with Hospira wholesalers and within the corporation, Hospira decided it couldn't make that promise.

Mark Kleinschmidt featured in new book

A couple of weeks ago, Mark Kleinschmidt told me he was embarassed by a new book, "The Last Lawyer," about his former boss at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, Ken Rose. Telling the story of CDPL's efforts to get a mentally ill client of death row, the book heaps praise on Kleinschmidt. I'm only half-way through, but I understand the mayor-elect's sheepishness.

"Mark was effortlessly handsome," wrote John Temple, a journalism professor at West Virginia University. "Polynesians thought he was Polynesian. Greeks thought he was Greek. Israelis thought he was Israeli. In fact, Mark was adopted and had no idea where his olive complexion and wavy black hair had come from."

But the book is not about appearances. In the first 15 pages after introducing him, Temple brands Kleinschmidt as an expert on mental retardation and its relevance in death-penalty cases, something I didn't know about the Town-Council member. After the General Assembly passed a law protecting mentally-retarded murderers from execution in 2001, Kleinschmidt, only a year out of law school, stayed busy drafting motions and advising lawyers around the state on how to rescue 51 men and one woman from death row.

"Mark had some personal experience with mentally retarded people -- an uncle who was slow and the occasional student in his high-school class who couldn't keep up," Temple wrote. "He immersed himself in the science of IQ testing."

The book is a good read, and I may post some more tidbits here as I read on.



The death decision

"In N.C., death penalty gets rarer."

That headline in the morning paper might be surprising given that public support of the death penalty remains high. A Gallop Poll conducted as recently as October showed 64 percent of Americans in favor of executing people convicted of murder. But that was down from 69 percent a year earlier and other polls show the percentage in favor of putting murderers to death falls far below 50 percent when the alternative of life without parole is presented.

The overall support for death penalty has been clashing in recent years with substantial discomfort with the way it has been carried out and a growing number of obstacles to actually putting people to death. Staff Writer Dan Kane, who examined decisions by prosecutors and trial results from around the state, explains why just one person has been sentenced to death in North Carolina this year.

No one has been executed here since August 2006. 

Linda Williams 


Morning musing

If the General Assembly in 2001 banned the execution of mentally retarded people, why is anyone who had qualified to compete in Special Olympics still on death row any way? Lawyers for Clinton Cebert Smith argued that his case had been twisted by hidden evidence, misleading testimony and inadequate representation, but a judge took Smith off death row in the 1996 death of his young daughter because he was not capable of understanding his actions ("Judge's order moves man off death row," Tuesday, Page 1A).

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