Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump is well-known nationally for representing families of unarmed black people killed by police, like Michael Brown and Stephon Clark, in wrongful death and police brutality cases.
In his latest role, he’s the host of “Evidence of Innocence,” a new show on TV One about wrongful convictions with episodes running on Mondays in June.
Crump, president and founder of Ben Crump Law in Tallahassee and Los Angeles, narrates the stories and interviews the four wrongfully convicted African-Americans who are featured in the show. As the survivors—and the defense lawyers and investigators who won their clients’ freedom—sit under studio lights telling their stories, actors and actresses re-enact the drama, with intense music in the background.
We caught up with Crump, a former National Bar Association president, to ask about his role in the show, how it’s affected him personally and the larger impact he hopes to see from it. Here are his answers, edited for clarity and brevity.
A district judge who was wrongfully convicted of nine felonies has sued the prosecutors involved in the case, alleging they prosecuted her maliciously for a political agenda.
Because of the convictions, former 380th District Judge Suzanne Wooten of Collin County had to resign her bench and saw her law license suspended, but last May a court acquitted her of all charges, declared her actually innocent, and she became a licensed lawyer again in June 2017. Wooten has now brought a federal civil rights lawsuit against the prosecutors she claims conspired to wrongfully indict and prosecute her by “inventing and perverting law, misleading judges and juries” and dismantling Wooten’s life and career.
“She wants to be vindicated. This lawsuits serves as the last chapter in her struggles to vindicate herself and show what happened to her was wrong and unjust. They ruined her life,” said Dallas solo practitioner Scott H. Palmer, who represents Wooten. “Her civil rights were trampled on, and she wants to prove that.”
Part of the horror of what happened to Suzanne Wooten is the realization that if the justice system failed so miserably for her, it could happen to anyone.
Wooten lived a nightmare: Winning an election by a landslide to unseat an incumbent judge, only to be allegedly targeted by political rivals, wrongfully convicted of nine felonies, cast down from her district court bench and stripped of her license to practice law.
Finally after six years living the bad dream, Wooten this year found complete redemption in May when a court acquitted her of all charges, declared her actually innocent, and she got back her law license in June.
Some things, Wooten will never get back. She used to believe if she paid her taxes, followed the speed limit, refused to drink and drive, or followed election campaign laws, she would be safe and wouldn’t get in legal trouble.
“The biggest horror is taking away from me and my family the sense of security we have,” Wooten said. “When something like this happens to you, my sense of being safe even just walking down the street—it’s gone, it’s destroyed.”
Wrongful conviction stories always loom large in the public consciousness because of the deep-seated need to believe that the justice system will get it right—convict the guilty, exonerate the innocent. When things go terribly wrong, people struggle to find some reason, so that they won’t have to believe that a wrongful conviction could happen to them, too.
How did the system fail Suzanne Wooten?