My long struggle for justice
Larry Peterson tells how he overcame prosecutors and prison cruelty to prove his innocence in a murder case.
Reposted from the Philadelphia Inquirer
By Larry Peterson
June 15, 2006
In 1987, as I was trying to place my life in a favorable position to prosper mentally, spiritually and emotionally, my life took a hellish turn.
In 1986, I had begun to attend a treatment center to assist me with my alcohol problems. All appeared to be going well, almost fantastically, for me when in August 1987 the state began investigating the Burlington County rape and murder of Jacqueline Harrison.
I couldn't fathom why investigators had come to interview me and why I was a suspect.
Little did I know the state was building a case against me, maybe because of my arrogance and obnoxiousness and because I didn't care for their rude, insensitive interrogation tactics.
On Sept. 22, 1987, I was at work at Diamond Lumber when the supervisor asked me to join him in his office. Three or four county officers were there, and they began reading me my rights and informing me I was being arrested for Ms. Harrison's rape and murder.
I was taken to the county courthouse, where I was interrogated for hours. I told them the same thing over and over:I didn't commit any crime, and at the time of the murder I was in Wrightstown with a young lady having a good time at a motel.
I was taken to the Burlington County jail and made to wait all day before being processed in. Late that night, about 10:30 or 11, I was placed in a dorm with seven criminals. I was attacked there by inmates and required stitches to my lips.
The next day, I was transferred to the Cumberland County jail in Bridgeton, where I remained in solitary for more than 90 days. In January 1988, I was transferred to the Mercer County Detention Center in Trenton, where I remained until my trial began in January 1989.
From 1987 to 1989, I was treated cruelly in every sense of the word when it came to dental and medical treatment.
On the day I entered Trenton State Prison, facing 50 years, I made up my mind to accomplish two things.
First and foremost, I was going to live for the Lord regardless of whether I got out of what had happened to me.
Second, I would work to prove my innocence.
I worked regularly in the law library, and I studied God's word to know how to live and what life was really about.
I wrote to law clinics, including the Innocence Project, but none would touch my case until I finished all my appeals. The Innocence Project followed my case for years and took it immediately after my appeals.
I must express my deep and sincere appreciation for many, but especially for Vanessa Potkin, a project attorney who spent endless hours, weekends and holidays doing everything she could for me.
For years I was treated as less than human by certain guards and often was abused by the dental department and medical staff. For more than 12 years, until I was moved to a newer section of the prison, the living conditions were horrendous. Roaches and mice ran the units more so than humans.
I was denied DNA testing for years, I believe with all my heart because the authorities in the Prosecutor's Office knew they had framed me, lied about me, and forced others to lie about me.
They knew I was an innocent man, yet they ran me through hell in an attempt to cover up the ugly things they had done.
Then on Aug. 27, I was released from the Burlington County jail, and I felt the beginning of freedom.
That didn't become reality until May 26, when the Prosecutor's Office decided not to retry me - the only right thing it has done in 19 years.
I received word while at work that the state was about to end my nightmare. My tears were uncontrollable.
Now a new day is arising, full of happiness, joy, freedom, and the pursuit of a new, prosperous and fulfilling life.
All honor, praise and glory to the Holy One of Israel.
Now, when does the pursuit of the real perpetrators take place so there can be finality for the victim's family?
Larry Peterson, 55, made bail last year after serving 18 years. Charges against him were dropped last month after DNA tests failed to place him at the crime scene. He works as a carpenter and writes from Pemberton Township.