Stealing Lives One Conviction At a Time

How prisons antagonize progress

Matt Peterson
6 min readSep 8, 2022

In the past 25 years alone thousands of people have been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to tens of thousands of years in prison.
Bernard B. Kerik, From Jailer to Jailed

UChicago Magazine

What is a violent crime?

The definition varies by state and changes over time, but a violent crime does not have to involve physical contact with another person.

Armed robbery is a violent crime. So is manufacturing speed.

According to 18 U.S. Code section 16, a violent crime is defined as:

(a) an offense that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or prop­erty of another, or

(b) any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.

The FBI defines violent crime like this:

Violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Violent crimes are defined in the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program as those offenses which involve force or threat of force.

Is putting an innocent person in prison a violent crime?

You’ve Been Warned

The state wants us to be worried about violent crime. The Three Strikes law was the mid-90s contribution to mass incarceration; Trump campaigned on a return to ‘law and order,’ wanting to jail protesters except those who defended his right to lie about the 2020 election. ‘Law and order’ has been a prominent agenda on the Republican platform since Nixon’s ’68 bid for the White House.

What do victims of violent crime want?

Research shows that victims of violent crime want less incarceration and an increase in education for offenders.

  • 61% prefer shorter sentences and spending on prevention and rehabilitation programs
  • 82% prefer investing in programs for at-risk youth and other crime prevention programs
Prison Policy Initiative
  • Fewer than 30% support supporting mass incarceration

Currently, there are 4.5 times more unconvicted people than convicted in local jails.

Housing the Poor

The state doesn’t care about poor people unless they commit a crime. Once arrested, the state puts them in jail, where they stay if they can’t post bail even though they’re presumed innocent. This is one-way mass incarceration thrives.

Melissa Lucio was set to die by lethal injection on April 27 for the murder of her two-year-old daughter Mariah, who died on February 17, 2007.

  • Mariah died from blunt force trauma after falling down a flight of stairs
  • There was an overwhelming amount of evidence in support of Lucio’s innocence
  • Lucio was abused by multiple men beginning when she was seven years old
  • She had a drug problem, scant education, gave birth to 14 children, and raised her family in squalor

Three Texas Rangers interrogated Lucio and got her to say she was responsible for her daughter’s bruises after berating her for six hours without food or water. Lucio never admitted to being responsible for her daughter’s death.

Mariah had a condition that turned her feet inward, thus making her prone to falling. Her autopsy revealed she may have suffered from disseminated intravascular coagulation, which caused the inflicted bruise in areas of their body that were not directly injured. She was found at the bottom of the staircase outside Lucio’s second-floor apartment and died two days later.

The family was in the process of moving when Mariah fell. When Lucio was arrested, the family lived in a first-floor apartment. At Lucio’s trial, the jury did not know that Mariah’s death occurred at the previous residence. This is the result of incompetence or a setup. Somehow both factored as components in the state’s case again Melissa Lucio.

Armando Villalobos was the District Attorney in Lucio’s case and won her case for the state despite having no hard evidence against Lucio.

Some egregious facts of the trial:

  • The state presented false evidence against Lucio
  • The state did not present evidence that Melissa Lucio abused her children, despite her confession being built around police suspicion that she abused her youngest child
  • The jury did not hear Melissa Lucio’s defense

Several jurors have spoken on Lucio’s behalf, believing she is innocent.

The Intercept

One of her jurors spoke out in an affidavit.

The trial left me thinking Melissa Lucio was a monster, but now I see her as a human being who was made to seem evil because I didn’t have all the evidence I needed to make that decision. Ms. Lucio deserves a new trial and for a new jury to hear this evidence.
— Melissa Quintanilla, foreperson of Lucio’s jury

Melissa Lucio was tried and convicted of capital murder because she is poor.

The former Arizona cop Philip Brailsford who shot and killed Daniel Shaver, both 26 years old, in 2016, was temporarily rehired so that he could apply for a special pension for life.

Why is a person whose guilt is in doubt imprisoned for 14+ years on death row while a man who recorded himself murdering another man given a salary for life?

Hitman of the State

Armando Villalobos attempted to murder Melissa Lucio.

Villalobos fought to get Lucio the death penalty and won — he and his team cheered in the courtroom when they heard the verdict — his action led to her death row sentence. The state calls it execution, but with the delusory charges against Lucio, the state is a conspirator in the attempted murder of an innocent woman. The court heard false information from the prosecution and let fearmongering infect the jurors. So far, they’ve gotten away with taking 14.5 years of Lucio’s life.

Villalobos was convicted of fraud in 2014, profiting from many of his convictions, and is currently serving a 13-year sentence.

Check out how the language changes when the fault falls upon the state. Imprisonment of an innocent person is not a felony. It’s not a violent crime. It’s wrongful.

A conviction may be classified as wrongful for two reasons:

1. The person convicted is factually innocent of the charges.
2. There were procedural errors that violated the convicted person’s rights.

There’s a problem with the logic used to persecute people and put them in jail. First, people are presumed innocent until found guilty, yet the innocent are jailed until they get a trial if they can’t post bail. In this logic, individuals can be felons, but the state can not act feloniously, and a state representative acting on its behalf cannot commit a felony.

No one representing the state is tried for murder if they send an innocent person to their death. Nor can they be tried for attempted murder if their victim remains on death row.

Take another look at the definition of violent crime from above. The state has committed both points (a) and (b) against Melissa Lucio.

Wrongful imprisonment is a violent crime.

Wilton Dedge was imprisoned for 22 years for the December 8, 1981 sexual battery of a woman in her home. In 2004 Florida overturned his conviction, and Dedge was released, but he was not entitled to compensation. Dedge advocated for his right to be compensated; in 2005, he received compensation from the state. In 2008 Florida passed a law nullifying the need for any wrongly convicted person to need to advocate for compensation after their release.

The problem here is that the state is entitled to withhold compensation — it’s allowed to withhold the shame of its guilt — and most importantly — the state cannot be punished for the malice it does to innocent people. If the state can’t be disciplined for its felonious actions, how free are its citizens?



Matt Peterson

I write at the intersection of interest and pressing need.