Well, it’s finally over, and if you didn’t look too closely, you’d think the good guys had won. Today at a pre-trial hearing in Smith County, six of the seven so-called Mineola Swingers Club defendants—accused of unbelievable acts of child sexual abuse—pled guilty to “injury to a child” (a felony) in exchange for their freedom. They’ve all been in jail or prison since 2007, though two had their sentences overturned. The remaining defendant—whose conviction is still intact—will remain in prison.The story provides an excellent, if angering explanation of why innocent people may plead guilty in cases such as this:
I’ve rarely seen the wheels of justice grind up so many innocent people—and I’m not just talking about these seven defendants. I’m also talking about the children who became witnesses against them, plus the family members of everyone involved in this sordid mess. As long-time Tyler attorney Bobby Mims, who is also a vice-president of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, told me in my first story on the cases, “In my thirty years of practice, I’ve never seen anything like it—an absolute, honest-to-God frame-up.”
Why would they do this if they aren’t guilty? Well, innocent people plead guilty all the time. They confess to crimes they didn’t commit (about a quarter of the DNA exonerations involve some form of false confession) and they plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit. They especially do it when they are certain they will be found guilty, no matter what they do or how good their attorneys are. In these cases we’ve already seen four different juries vote guilty—in the time it takes to watch a movie. These defendants know the realities. They can go to prison for life—or they can go home. They don’t have a whole lot to lose by pleading guilty. Their lives have already been ruined—they’ll always be known for these allegations anyway.There's little doubt more than a few innocent people enter into plea deals for exactly those reasons: The (il)logic of the plea bargain system all but demands it. Even if you're innocent, would you risk a life sentence if you could plea guilty and go home by the end of the week?
Ultimately, says Hall, "There was no crime. There was no sex kindergarten and there were no child-sex shows at a swinger’s club. Ultimately, I can’t help but believe that [Smith County DA Matt] Bingham knows this. Let’s put it this way: If he really believed these people put on live sex shows with children, would he really be setting them free now?" Exactly.