In his fantastic and thoughtful new piece in The Atlantic, “Did the Wrong Man Spend 40 Years in Solitary Confinement?” Andrew Cohen argues that Herman Wallace, a man who spent four decades in solitary confinement in Louisiana’s infamous Angola prison “will become a symbol of a justice system that too often prizes finality over accuracy, but without the candor or courage to actually say so.” Wallace recently learned that he has late-stage liver cancer and only a few weeks to live. Incredibly well-researched and thorough, Cohen details Wallace’s trial and the egregious flaws that were present or have since emerged in the prosecution’s case.
Perhaps most importantly, though, is how he dissects Louisiana’s unyielding refusal to acknowledge these flaws, exposing the legal backflips and procedural maneuvering the state has performed to avoid the possibility of admitting error. Through this, he also shows how the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which was designed to better carry out justice, has metastasized into something that prevents it from occurring.
While you may not be convinced of Wallace’s innocence, Cohen ultimately leaves no doubt that there is doubt concerning Wallace’s conviction. The realization that the law can be so intent on maintaining such a conviction, however tenuous, set against the backdrop of Wallace’s 40 years of solitary confinement and destructive liver cancer, make this story a harrowing one. But it’s also a must-read—everyone should know how our justice system has become a place where a tragedy like Wallace’s can be allowed to happen.