Life without parole

This article originally appeared in the Houston Press on April 13th, 2011. Below is a snippet, read the full article here.

By Mandy Oaklander

In Texas, only capital murder cases warrant a sentence of life without parole. In Louisiana, a life sentence for any crime means you never leave prison. It could have been even worse for Kinsel. His could have been a capital case, but the court chose not to pursue the death penalty. Such draconian sentences are partly a result of place. In a handful of states (Louisiana and Texas are two), judges are elected, not appointed. And in Jefferson Parish, where judicial candidates brag about their high conviction rates to win voters, it certainly doesn’t look good to be soft on child rape. Donnie Rowan, who was the state’s attorney in Kinsel’s case, ran for judge in 2007 and boasted a 99 percent conviction rate during his time as a prosecutor, according to the Times-Picayune. He won.

But what happens when the victim wants the accused set free?

In October 2005, 19-year-old Medlin showed up at the office of Laurie White, Kinsel’s attorney at the time. Medlin said that she had made up the allegations that put Kinsel in prison and wanted to set the record straight. She issued a sworn statement with White. According to court transcripts, Medlin went to the district attorney’s office a year later to officially recant. She said she was threatened with perjury, and was told that she would need to be recited her Miranda rights before continuing.

Terrified, Medlin left the D.A.’s office and hired an attorney, Gary Bizal. Bizal told her that she could indeed be charged with perjury, but Medlin issued an affidavit in June 2006 that she was prepared to testify in open court, even if it meant going to jail. “When I testified at trial that John molested me, I lied,” Medlin wrote in the affidavit. “Since John Kinsel’s conviction, I have lived with guilt about what I have done…I now must do whatever it takes to correct this wrong.”

Bizal told the Houston Press that in his 29 years practicing law, he’s only had two victims recant. Bizal believed Medlin was sincere in recanting. He had no reason to doubt what she was saying. Recantations are always viewed suspiciously by a court, he said, but the very act of recanting should call into question the alleged victim’s first accusation. “Somebody coming in and recanting just suggests to me that you’ve got sort of an unstable person to begin with,” he said.

← Blog