Innocence, conviction and compassion

If you haven’t read Pamela Colloff’s beautifully written two-part story, “The Innocent Man,” in the November and December issues of Texas Monthly, take the time and read both parts. “The Innocent Man” is the story of Michael Morton, wrongfully convicted in 1987 of killing his wife. He spent 25 years in prison before being released. 25 years.

It is popular these days for journalists to take up the cause of those in prison whose convictions are questionable, and rightly so. Attorney Barry Scheck (remember O.J.’s trial?) heads up the Innocence Project, which works through DNA evidence to clear those wrongfully convicted. Google “wrongful convictions” and you get endless hits — from attorneys and organizations to people looking for support and answers.

When we read Michael Morton’s story, or hear that Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in 2004 for setting a fire that killed his three children, may have been innocent, we’re overwhelmed with compassion for what these people and their families have gone through. We’re filled with sadness and anger because law enforcement or prosecutors failed to do their jobs properly, and people suffered.

A few Sundays ago in church, the preacher read Luke 23: 33-34: “When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals — one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”

When I saw the words to those verses projected on the screen, and heard them read aloud, the innocence of Jesus hit me right between the eyes. Here was someone who had not committed any crime, someone who had done nothing wrong, dying a horrible death so that we could have the chance of eternity with Him in heaven. His death had to happen. It was part of God’s plan. Jesus came to Earth knowing how his life would end. There would be no Innocence Project or crusading journalist to come to his rescue.

We feel Michael Morton’s pain as he is imprisoned and separated from his son for 25 years, all because law enforcement would not look for the real killer. Do we feel the same compassion for Jesus? Do we feel Jesus’s pain when we choose to follow the ways of the world rather than His ways? Do we feel the same indignation for Jesus as we feel for Michael Morton? Jesus endured far more than anyone should have to, then asks His Father to forgive those who are killing Him. It’s more than my mind can take in. I just know that I have a long way to go.

Link to part one —

Link to part two —

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