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In the book Picking Cotton, there are two slightly different stories as to what Ronald Cotton was convicted of as a juvenile. On p. 92, we are told that Cotton pleaded guilty to attempted rape. On p. 132, it says that he had a record for breaking and entering with intent to commit second-degree rape. I do not know which of these is technically accurate. At any rate, we know that Cotton was incarcerated as a juvenile for a crime that was related to rape.
This is important because it helps to explain why Ronald Cotton was later wrongfully convicted as an adult of the rapes of Jennifer Thompson and another woman. In 1985, Cotton was convicted of raping Jennifer Thompson. Part of the reason why he was convicted was that Thompson gave convincing eyewitness testimony identifying Cotton as her assailant. The fact that Cotton had a prior conviction for an offense that sounded similar (Cotton says it was a different situation) also helped to make him look guilty in the eyes of the jury.
As it turns out, Cotton was innocent of the rapes. DNA evidence proved someone else had raped Thompson and the other woman. Thompson and Cotton now work together, telling their story as a way to try to achieve reforms that would help prevent other people from being wrongfully convicted on the basis of faulty eyewitness testimony.
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