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” (http://www.pickingcottonbook.com/). 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.