Posted on Jul 14, 2015

Being convicted of a crime is not only disheartening, but the penalties involved can be extremely severe. Being convicted of sexual assault can result in social, psychological, and physical repercussions.

Not only are sex offenders commonly singled out during incarceration, they’re actually considered the lowest form of criminal in many prisons. This reputation tends to follow them when they’re released as well, because their names and locations are posted on public lists. Needless to say, a conviction as a sex offender pretty much determines how you’ll be treated for the rest of your life.

If the accused is actually guilty, this probably seems like just punishment, especially for the victim and the victim's family. But imagine if you’re actually innocent.

Unfortunately, sometimes people are wrongfully accused, convicted, and punished for crimes they didn’t commit. In some cases, the error is discovered before too much harm is done, but for others, people can go years paying a debt to society that they never owed.

Michael Kenneth McAlister is one of those victims and his story was told recently in The Washington Post.

Three Decades of Punishment and Suspicion

In 1986, the then 29-year-old McAlister was charged and convicted for the attempted rape of a young mother. He swore he was innocent, but was sentenced to imprisonment for the crime nonetheless. New evidence later emerged which threw suspicion on another suspect. This led the prosecutor, former Richmond commonwealth's attorney Joseph D. Morrissey, and the former detective, Charles M. Martin, to sign sworn affidavits saying they might have locked up an innocent man. However, attempts to clear McAlister’s name and exonerate him from charges went unanswered.

Justice Finally Served

After 29 years of maintaining his innocence and fighting for his release, McAlister finally caught a break. An imprisoned serial rapist named Norman Bruce Derr, who has an uncanny resemblance to McAlister, confessed to the 1986 assault. Although every other piece of evidence fell on deaf ears, Derr’s confession could not be ignored. As a result, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe granted an absolute pardon.

Needless to say, after nearly three decades of incarceration, McAlister was said to be “ecstatic, very emotional, very excited, crying, and grateful to everyone,” when he heard the news.