Man Wrongly Imprisoned For Rape Forgives Accuser
Jennifer Thompson-Cannino was a 22-year-old college student
in North Carolina in 1984 when she was raped at knifepoint. She
tried to memorize her attacker's face.
"If I lived, I wanted to be able to take my memory to the police,"
Thompson-Cannino told Channel 4.
The composite sketch done by the police lead them to arrest
Ronald Cotton, also 22 years old.
Thompson-Cannino picked him out of a line-up. Cotton was
convicted of rape and sentenced to life plus 54 years, all the while claiming his innocence.
"It was like I was in a dream,” said Cotton. “I took my hand and pinched myself and felt the pain, and said, this is no dream, this is real."
Eleven years later, a DNA test showed another man was the real rapist. Cotton was set free.
"I stood on the courthouse steps, pumped my fist in the air, said, ‘free at last,’ lifted my head back, and said, ‘Good Lord, where do I go from here?’" he said.
But for Thompson-Cannino, everything she had believed for more than a decade was suddenly swirling like a snow globe.
"It would be as if someone looked at you and said, 'Your children, these kids that you've loved, for 10 years, 20 years, that you've taken care of, they're really not yours. They're the neighbor's kids,"' she said.
Feeling suffocating shame and guilt, Thompson-Cannino asked to meet Cotton.
"We cried together, hugged one another, me and my wife hugged and cried, a lot of shared emotions there, at that particular time and moment," Cotton said.
The two have written a best-selling book together called "Picking Cotton."
At Trevecca Nazarene College Wednesday night, they told a story of how through grace and mercy they became friends and moved on with their lives.
"We have shared a part of our lives, the most traumatic part, the most dangerous, the most painful, and somehow were able to transcend it, to where we care about each others' lives and well-being," Thompson-Cannino said.
"The one scenario I didn't bank on, was him forgiving me. And that's exactly what happened," she said.