When Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz were found guilty of the 1982 rape and murder of Debbie Sue Carter, her devastated family found a small degree of solace in the idea that justice had been served. The Oklahoma 21-year-old had just moved into her first apartment when she was raped and killed, and her family was never the same. Unfortunately, the family was rocked yet again in 1999, when they found out DNA evidence had exonerated Williamson and Fritz and implicated a different man, Glen Gore, in Debbie's murder; he was convicted years later. In an extensive look at the case for Politico, Lara Bazelon explores how wrongful conviction affects a victim's family, mostly via interviews with Debbie's cousin Christy, who was 8 years old when Debbie was murdered. Bazelon looks at "her reckoning, her rage, her forgiveness, and her transformation into a crusader for a different vision of justice."
Christy felt "true hatred" while watching Williamson and Fritz stand trial, but when she sat in the courtroom watching Gore's trial, there was none of that. "If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I would never be stupid enough to say that I was 100% sure about anything," she says. Not only was the exoneration an "earthquake" for Williamson and Fritz (Williamson died of cirrhosis in 2004), but for Debbie's family. Victims' families are "forced to relive the worst experience of their lives with the knowledge that the actual perpetrator was never caught, or caught far too late, after victimizing more people," and while dealing with all the upheaval, they often feel "cast aside, because the exoneration process is not concerned with their suffering," Bazelon writes. In Christy's case, she ended up working through her pain to reach high levels of anti-death penalty activism. The full story is worth a read. (Read more Longform stories.)