Dr. James Pendergraft is about to be released from prison, and the National Organization for Women is celebrating the release of the man it says was wrongfully imprisoned. Why doesn’t NOW speak up about other men who have been released after their convicitons were overturned?
Pendergraft was convicted as part of a bizarre case in which he was accused and convicted of extortion. The case is complicated, but it boils down to this — Pendergraft was angry that police in Marion County, Florida apparently refused to allow their officers to moonlight as security guards at his abortion clinic after hours. In a meeting, Pendergraft threatened to sue the city claiming he would bankrupt it if they did not meet his demands.
Prosecutors construed that as attempted extortion and managed to convict the abortion provider in May 2001. Pendergraft’s sentence was overturned on February 27, 2002, however, and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ordered him to be released immediately.
NOW sent out a press release a couple days later saying, among other things, that,
The charges against him were based on the flimsiest of evidence and appear to be just another attempt to limit reproductive health services in the state. …
Both the imprisonment and release of Dr. Pendergraft underscore the need for fair judges and prosecutors at every level of the judicial system. NOW’s Judicial Justice Project is keeping a close eye on Bush’s nominees to the federal courts. We’re also mobilizing activists to demand that their senators only vote to confirm nominees who will rule with fairness and to firmly oppose those who seek to promote their ultraconservative agendas.
This is a bit odd. With the advent of sophisticated DNA testing, more than 100 convicted criminals have been released from jail after it turned out that they could not have committed the crime that they were charged with. A significant number of those cases involves men who served often very long jail terms for rapes that they did not committ. Moreover, looking back at many of those cases it is apparent that, like Pendegraft, those men were convicted on the flimsiest of evidence in trials whose fairness was questionable at best.
And yet I do not recall NOW sending out a press release in any of those instances to decry the systemtic injustices in the system. In fact, NOW has generally supported such injustices.
Oliver Jovanovic was originally convicted of rape based on an absurd interpretation of rape shield laws by a New York judge. Jovanovic claimed his sexual encounter with a young woman was consensual, while his accuser said it was rape. On the stand, his accuser testified that she had never told Jovanovic that she was interested in sadomasochistic sex, but, in fact, she sent him numerous e-mails before their meeting describing in detail her sadomasochistic fantasies and experiences. A judge ruled those e-mails inadmissable based on New York’s rape shield laws, and Jovanovic was convicted.
Eventually his conviction was overturned. Did NOW celebrate the righting of such an injustice? Are you kidding? A man serving time for a rape he did not committ? That sort of injustice isn’t even on NOW’s radar.
NOW President Applauds Release of Wrongfully Imprisoned Abortion Provider, Says Case Underscores The Need For Judicial Justice. Rebecca Farmer, National Organization for Women, Press Release, March 1, 2002.