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Wronged by Legal System, He's Making Law a Career

June 02, 2002|DAVID FOSTER | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Imprisoned for 10 years for a rape he didn't commit, Anthony Robinson is uniquely qualified for a career in law.

He enrolled last August at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, where he quickly became "our celeb first-year law student," says the dean, John Brittain.

Robinson is surprisingly committed to a legal system that wronged him, and he has insights that few law students can match, the dean says.

"They say a person who's been in the joint can tell a guilty person real quick," Brittain says.

In 1986, Robinson was picking up a car for a friend at the University of Houston when police arrested him, saying he matched the description that a rape victim had given of her attacker: a black man with a mustache, wearing a plaid shirt.

Robinson had a plaid shirt but no mustache, but the victim's identification of him was enough for the jury. He was convicted of rape in 1987 and sentenced to 27 years in prison.

Proclaiming his innocence from the start, Robinson could not prove it until he was paroled in 1997, after a decade behind bars. Then, he worked day-labor jobs to save up for a lawyer and a $1,800 DNA test.

The test showed his semen did not match evidence collected from the crime scene, which led the state to conduct its own test, with the same results. He was pardoned in November 2000 by then-Gov. George W. Bush.

Robinson received $250,000 in compensation from the state, but it could not restore the lost years. At age 40, the college graduate and former Army lieutenant is keenly aware of the opportunities that have passed him by.

"Most of my college classmates have gone on to have children and careers," he says. "They acquired those things that you do when you're young and ambitious."

He hopes that a legal career will help him address a disturbing gap between the theory and practice of law.

"If justice were truly the objective of the prosecution, then how do things like this occur?" Robinson asks. "The old maxim that 10 guilties should go free rather than one innocent be convicted, does not drive the prosecutorial mind-set.

"How can it serve the ends of justice when the innocent are punished and the guilty are allowed to go free? There are some inconsistencies between what we believe and what we actually do."

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