Toby Dorr
Episode 5

Episode 5

Toby Dorr: Hello and welcome to Fierce Conversations with Toby, the show where we talk about the hard things. I’m Toby Dore. In today’s episode, we’re gonna discuss when innocence is not enough. Our guest today is Thomas Dybdahl, who has degrees in theology, journalism, and law. Tom is a former staff attorney at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, where he worked in both the trial and appellate divisions and tried 25 homicide cases. He lives in Boulder, Colorado. Welcome, Tom. It’s a delight to have you here with us today.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: Thank you. It’s my pleasure to be here.

Toby Dorr: I like to ask all my guests a question that gives us a peek into who you are. To start off, what’s your favorite color and what does that color say about you?

Thomas L. Dybdahl: I think green is definitely my favorite color. I like that it has so many shades. You can be very, very bright green. There are many muted shades of it, but, particularly what it means to me is the starting of new life, of spring and hope. I live in a place where it has cold winters here in Colorado. But I always look forward to spring when you see some green growing out of the ground. It seems like the cycle of life is starting again and, I’m a hopeful person.

Toby Dorr: So that’s what I love and that’s excellent. And those first green shoots that come up just seem to be so much greener than anything else.I love that feeling too. Absolutely. You’re my first person who’s picked green, by the way, so I love that. I like that you can be different. So, can you tell us about a crossroads in your life that pushed you in a different direction?

Thomas L. Dybdahl: Yes, for, for most of my life, I wasn’t working specifically in the legal field, but I’d always had an interest from a young age in criminal justice issues and prisons and prisoners and issues around crime. But I hadn’t ever worked directly in that field. I was in publishing. I worked in Congress for a while. I did a lot of different jobs. Then when I was in my mid-forties, I had started a small business with my ex-wife. It made a little money and I kind of had a chance to say, what am I gonna do with the rest of my life? And I decided to go to law school at the age of 48.

Toby Dorr: I love that.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: I’m so glad I did. I didn’t graduate till I was 51 and obviously my legal career was not particularly long, but it was wonderful. I love being a public defender and I’m so glad that I took that leap at a somewhat advanced age. That it really changed my life, uh, in a good way. Well,

Toby Dorr: We have something in common there because I just had this white picket fence life until I was 48, and then I went to prison, and I got out when I was 51. So that was my big crossroads in a new direction.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: That’s an amazing parallel. So, we both started at 51.

Toby Dorr: Yes. That is interesting, isn’t it? So, your new book, which I just love, I have a copy of it here. When Innocence Is Not Enough: the hidden evidence and the failed promise of the Brady Rule is a fascinating book, I was only able to get a copy just two days ago, and I haven’t done anything since but dig into this book. There are so many things in there, but in particular, you take on the Brady Rule. In 1963, the Supreme Court decreed the prosecution must share favorable information with the defense on the premise that the United States wins its point whenever justice is done. Well, that sure sounds noble, but what went wrong?

Thomas L. Dybdahl: Well, it was a great idea, but almost everything went wrong to start with. The courts who adopted this rule – initially, the Supreme Court, even its members – were divided about the rule and what it meant. And very quickly, because the law always is evolving, what it really means is what the courts say it means in specific cases. So, what happened fairly quickly, instead of saying, all right, this really means the prosecution, when they find favorable evidence for the defense, they have to turn it over. They started narrowing the rule. They started changing how it was applied, and very quickly it became something very narrow and then they didn’t really enforce it. Even when people failed, when prosecutors failed to turn over evidence and it happened to come out, they said, oh, you know, you shouldn’t have done that. But they really didn’t do much. And really to, without going into too much detail, the key problem was they said, ‘for a real Brady violation, the evidence has to be material to guilt or punishment’. And the way they define material, which is a reasonable probability of a different outcome is so slippery and vague that you can basically justify any decision. Could just say there might have been a probability that if this evidence had been shared, it would’ve changed the results, but we don’t know if it’s a reasonable probability. So, no harm, no foul, and that’s what happens over and over in these cases. There’s no enforcement. So why would a prosecutor do it?

Toby Dorr: Yeah, I could see that. And the wording just has really devolved into something that anybody can find a loophole in it, which isn’t very effective.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: Absolutely. And particularly because prosecutors understandably are not in love with this rule. It tells ’em that, you know, they’re in the middle of a case, they’re prosecuting someone they think is guilty, and suddenly they find some evidence that maybe suggests the person might be innocent. Well, they don’t wanna turn over that evidence to the other side and help them win, help them lose a case. And so, they’re inclined not to do it anyway, and because they control the information, it’s simple to do. And many, many, many times, we likely never know that the evidence ever existed.

Toby Dorr: Right when I came home from hearing you speak the other night in DC, I was telling my stepson about it and he said, but that doesn’t make sense at all. Are the police on the side of the prosecutors? And I said, well, of course they are. And he said, well, shouldn’t they be on nobody’s side? That’s really not how it works. So, the police discover this evidence, and they work with the prosecutors. So really if there’s evidence that shows that the defendants might keep them from being found guilty, why mention it? The only people who know it are the police and the prosecutors, and so if the defendant’s attorneys never find out about it, you know, no one even knows.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: Right, and that’s often the case. I mean, sometimes certainly the defense does learn about it early on and knows. But in many instances, they don’t and they really have no way of even knowing, and in particular the case that I focus on in the book, the Catherine Fuller murder, where eight young black men were, I believe, wrongly convicted of her murder. The evidence was never discovered until about 15 years later, thanks to a very intrepid and courageous Washington Post reporter who kept digging in the case and digging in the case until she finally uncovered the evidence that there was a much more likely perpetrator, whose identity and background the government had completely withheld.

Toby Dorr: I’ve learned withholding favorable evidence is now the leading cause of wrongful convictions because prosecutors wanna win, even at any cost. But what’s the cost to a society when an innocent person goes to prison?

Thomas L. Dybdahl: Well, as you can imagine, I mean, the cost is enormous, in terms of human loss and human suffering. Can you imagine anything worse than being an innocent person? And being convicted of murder and sent to jail. And, you know, the evidence of my innocence has to be out there somewhere, but I have no way of finding it. I don’t know what else I can do. And obviously when a person goes to prison for life, it doesn’t just affect them, it affects their family, their children, their parents, even their friends, their community, the loss of their, skill, the loss of their creativity, the loss of their energy, their contribution to society,

Toby Dorr: They might have been the ones to cure cancer. How do we know? We don’t know what they could have been capable of.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: You never know. And obviously there’s also a great financial cost. It costs between 35 and $40,000 to put someone, to keep someone in jail for a year. In prison at least. So, multiply that by 10 or 20 years by a few thousand people at least, who are wrongly convicted. And you’re talking about millions, if not billions of dollars. Wasted. So, it’s a horrible cost that is preventable. But right now, uh, we’re not preventing it.

Toby Dorr: Well, you know, and there’s another cost that we haven’t even talked about, and that’s the cost of providing safety to the community. In this particular case referenced in your book, eight young men, ages 16 to 25 went to prison for this murder. It’s not hard to see that they weren’t guilty of this crime, but whoever was guilty, remains out there and is a risk for the rest of society. In fact, I think the person that you feel probably was the likely suspect went on to kill a woman later in a very same fashion, and now he is in prison. But that woman’s life maybe could have been saved if justice had been the prosecutor’s motive.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: Absolutely. The person whose identity they hid was running away from the scene where Catherine Fuller’s body was found. It was in a garage. He lived just a few steps away. He already had a horrible record of violence, particularly against women. And he should have been a prime suspect as soon as they learned about him. But by the time his name actually came up, they had already arrested 17 young people. Prosecutors said this is a gang attack. We’ve solved it. It was this gang who did it all. And so, they simply were unwilling to share this information, and in essence have to say, well, if this guy did it, we were completely wrong. The lied to the public. It’s been in the news all the time. That’s a very hard thing to do. But yes, this man who they should have arrested and charged with Ms. Fuller’s murder, did go to prison for two other violent robberies just in that neighborhood, both involving women. And eight years later, after he got out, while he was still in the halfway house. He brutally raped and murdered a young woman in an alley, very close to where Ms. Fuller had been killed in a very similar manner, and fortunately at least then they caught him, and he’s serving life without parole, but it’s certainly too late for that young woman.

Toby Dorr: Yes, it’s too late for her and it’s too late for the eight men who went to prison when they shouldn’t have. So, you know what really seems like from a prosecution standpoint, there’s no incentive to do the right thing. It seems that what really matters is a win – a conviction – so that the public believes justice was served, whether it was or not. And your book really brings this mindset into the open. What feedback have you gotten from prosecutors regarding your book?

Thomas L. Dybdahl: Well, I haven’t really gotten a lot, but certainly in my work as a public defender, I knew a lot of prosecutors and we would sometimes discuss these issues and I think there are many conscientious prosecutors who try to follow the law, but it is so vague and slippery that even for the most careful prosecutors, it’s not easy to always follow the Brady rule. And certainly, for those who are less, scrupulous, it’s just an enticement to withhold information and there is, as you noted, almost no incentive not to do that other than their own personal honor and saying, I really should do justice. But in an adversarial system, that’s a hard thing because, you know, people don’t become prosecutors because they’re kind of laid-back personalities. They’re hard driving people, pursuing justice in their mind in the system. But I think in that adversarial situation, and then with a desire to win, it’s easy to convince yourself, I don’t need to share this information. This really wouldn’t be favorable. It really doesn’t matter. Don’t wanna risk it. There’s really no consequence. So, they don’t do it. And you know, prosecutors don’t get promoted because they lose cases after they share favorable information. They get promoted when they win guilty verdicts. And the public is satisfied that justice has been done.

Toby Dorr: And you know, I bet most of the prosecutors honestly, don’t have the mindset that they’re withholding information and prosecuting an innocent person. I think they probably genuinely convince themselves that they know what really happened, and they hold steadfast to that belief because if they let in the idea that maybe something was wrong with what they believed, then they would be wrong, and they don’t want to let themselves be wrong.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: They’re human and I think there’s few prosecutors that knowingly want to convict innocent people. That happens very, very seldom. They do get into tunnel vision. You know, they investigate a case. They say, all right, this is our suspect, this is the evidence. I think this guy did it, and justice requires that he or she be convicted. So, when this other possible evidence comes in that they realize, well, this could weaken my case or even ruin it if I hand this over. But I really think this guy’s guilty. And so, if I hand it over maybe a guilty person will go free. Or I’m really just putting a little bit of my thumb on, on the justice scale in their minds. Easy thing to think, I just wanna make sure that this guilty guy goes to jail. They’re not thinking I wanna send an innocent person to prison.

Toby Dorr: right. I agree with you. I don’t think that’s their mindset.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: That they may well be wrong because they’re human as well and they make mistakes, but it’s hard. When you’re in the public eye like that and when it’s particularly a serious crime that people want solved, it’s hard to say, whoops, I think we might have gotten it wrong here. We need to step back, and you know, regroup. That’s very hard to do and so it doesn’t happen like it should.

Toby Dorr: And you know this particular case, you talked about that it had been in the headline news in Washington, DC for a year or so before it came to trial and everyone had a strong feeling about this case, the public, and the media, whether it should or not, it does have an impact on our justice system. I know when I was going through court myself, I was a high-profile case and I actually fell into a border box where I was presumptive probation. But the prosecutors came to my attorney and said, there is no way I can let her have probation because the media will crucify me. The media does have an impact and the media wanted blood and the prosecution was willing to give it to them. And I think that you had said when I heard you the other day, that because of the horrificness and the violence in this particular crime that the police made maybe a logical assumption that it had to be more than one person, and so they came up with this idea that it was a gang of kids and the gang just kept growing bigger and bigger and it fit their belief of what had to have happened.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: It was a horrible crime. Ms. Fuller was a small woman, less than five feet tall, weighed 99 pounds, and she was just brutalized, kicked, and beaten to death and sodomized with the stick. Police called it the most shocking and senseless crime in DC history. There probably are some contenders, but it was a horrible crime and people wanted it solved. And so they said it was a gang. And that was the only story that anyone heard for a year leading up to the trial. People just assumed that’s absolutely what happened. And the only question in their mind was who was in the gang? Who was guilty of this crime, but no one said, publicly at least, oh, this wasn’t a gang. But in fact, almost certainly it wasn’t. And when you look carefully at all the evidence, you can see there’s overwhelming evidence that it was one or two people committed the crime. It never happened the way that the police and the prosecutor and the media proclaimed, but that was the only story the public heard.

Toby Dorr: I think you said the area was so small that it would’ve been impossible for multiple people to be in that area. The public wanted justice and the prosecutors believed they had a case and they wanted to do their job and keep the public safe.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: The only evidence they had were the coerced confessions of two teenagers. There were no independent eyewitnesses. That is eyewitness who had no connection to the defendants, or the people accused, even though it happened in rush hour. It was an alley, but with busy streets on both sides, houses backing onto the alley. So, they manufactured a case on the coerced confessions of a couple of teenagers and that was what they had. But you know, confessions are very powerful.

Toby Dorr: I think we could a whole different podcast on false confessions because, people say nobody who’s innocent would confess. And that is not true. It happens all the time.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: Yeah, it, it does. And I understand people think, well, I would never confess to a crime I didn’t do, especially a murder. We probably all think that of ourselves. But that’s probably because you haven’t been a 16, 17, 18-year-old black teenager without a lot of life experience, being interrogated under intense pressure by experienced detectives who basically tell you, lie to you and say, we have evidence – we know you are part of this murder. So, you can either help us and tell us about it and we’ll go easy on you. Or you can go to jail for life. So, what do you wanna do?

Toby Dorr: And they’ll say, I got a confession. Somebody puts you on the scene when maybe it isn’t even true. There are a lot of reasons it happens all the time.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: In this case, they it lied about the evidence. They’re allowed to. The law says specifically that they can lie about the evidence when they’re trying to get someone to confess. Now, one good thing. I should just note that we’re finally recognizing how common that is, and at least with juveniles, Illinois last year became the first state to prohibit the police from lying about evidence to juveniles during interrogation.

Toby Dorr: They’re really vulnerable. They’re so vulnerable.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: Right. Exactly. And then Oregon did follow, and I think more states will do that and hopefully they’ll also extend it to adults because it’s a highly coercive tactic, particularly as someone who’s not very experienced – who may not know much how the system works and when they say, oh yeah, you know, all your friends said you did it, so you’re going to jail for the rest of your life unless you talk and tell us what we want to hear. That’s incredibly powerful and also incredibly coercive.

Toby Dorr: And a lot of times they’ll say, if you tell us you did it, we’ll let you go home, well that’s not gonna happen. But they wanna believe that cuz they’re searching desperately for a way out of that interrogation room. A way back into their life.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: At some point they say, these kids said, I just wanted to get out of there. I just wanted to stop the pressure. I said what I thought they wanted to hear.

Toby Dorr: And so, taken together the time inside for all eight defendants and the Catherine Fuller case totaled 255 years. And even though each one of these boys were offered deals, which would’ve resulted in a sentence of two to six years, they refused to plead guilty to something they didn’t do. And the parole boards, you know, want to see accountability before they’ll let you out on early release. So, if you don’t go before a parole board and say, I was responsible, I did this, I’m sorry. They don’t let you have parole, and if you weren’t willing to take a guilty plea to get early time, you’re not gonna be willing to tell a parole board that you did a crime when, when the whole, uh, core of what you stand for is that you’re innocent. It’s kind of a no-win situation.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: And I think it speaks well of these eight young men and is just more proof of their innocence that they could have been out decades or even after a couple of years. Like you say, if they had said they did it, And I think in that situation, I don’t know what I would do if I realized that I might well spend my life in prison or, as these guys did at least 25 years and maybe 38 years, like one of them did. If I just say, okay, I did it. I’ll be out in two years and go on with my life. It’s a powerful thing to say no. But they wouldn’t ever trade their integrity for their freedom. They insisted on their innocence, and as a result, they had to serve basically their entire sentences before they could be released.

Toby Dorr: Yes, yes, that’s true. And. I just find that amazing. A couple of the defendants have passed away. One of them passed away in prison and the other one passed away after he was out of prison. But all are free now. I was in prison for 27 months and it was an adjustment for me to come back into society. I can’t imagine these men served 35 years, 38 years – they served lengthy prison sentences, and all their formative young adult years were spent behind bars. Do you know, have any idea of what their lives are like today, how they’ve adjusted?

Thomas L. Dybdahl: I think their adjustment has been remarkable. I have been blessed to be able to spend a significant amount of time with some of them and, and certainly with some time with all of them. And despite what they’ve been through, they’re remarkably optimistic. They’re not bitter. I think I would be just livid. It’s hard to think if you’ve stole the best 35 years of my life. I don’t know how I could even function, but they’ve certainly struggled because they missed so much. I mean, just imagine coming out of prison in the last years and never having held a cell phone. Never had a driver’s or driven a car – any of those ordinary things that we all do. And combine that with you know this, Toby, from your experience that prison is a grim, violent, dangerous place. And anyone who has spent much time there, I think has PTSD that in prison to survive, particularly to survive 35 years in a federal maximum-security prison, you’re always on high alert. You have to be careful. Who you look at, what you say, where you go, how you relate to people. Anytime you’re in society it’s like being in a combat zone.

Toby Dorr: I was in prison 27 months. Nothing compared to what these men went through. But it was a long time for me. And when I got outta prison, my brother thought he’d plan a really good weekend for me, and he took me to the movies. And there I was in a movie theater, and it was totally dark. The lights never go out in prison. You never have total darkness. And there were people sitting behind me and I could hear them moving and rustling, and I had this huge panic attack and I had to spend my whole movie time in the restroom because it was the only place I felt safe, locked in that small stall. It is truly traumatic.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: Right. And, and they don’t even feel comfortable walking down the street. Because in prison you must be careful where you look and who you look at it. You know, if you make eye contact with the wrong person, you could be dead. So, when you’re walking down the street and thinking, or interacting with people. Should I maintain eye contact? How do I relate? It’s very difficult. And again, it’s a credit to these men that I think they are, they’re working. Most of them now have girlfriends. One of them just got married. they are absolutely trying their best to try to reclaim a life and have a life despite what was stolen from them.

Toby Dorr: I met several of them when I saw you the other day in DC at the book signing, and I was really impressed. You know, they looked like they could be preachers, or you know, someone really out there. They were just dressed to the nines, and they were so polite and humble. They had this humility about them that I just found so endearing. And I’m gonna be talking to some of them on the next episode of this podcast. And I can’t wait to tell their stories. And what I really want to focus on with them is how they made it through, and how they adjusted after prison. Because I think that’s a lesson, we could all learn from them. We all face things that we think are gonna be devastating, and that’s nothing compared to what they’ve been through.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: Right. I think that’s a great subject because obviously in prison everything is directed toward dehumanizing you. The hallmark of virtually every maximum-security prison in this country is a disregard for the possibilities, or the values of, inmates. And these guys decided at some point that they were going to take charge of themselves. They were not gonna be numbers, they were not gonna be victims. They were going to do what they could to realize their potential to learn. A lot of them took all kinds of classes, read, learned what they could, and tried to take almost the worst situation you can imagine and turn it into something that at least had some redeeming value and looked forward, not to the fact they might be there forever, but toward when they could be free and when they could be functioning again in society.

Toby Dorr: I can’t wait for that interview. I think it’s gonna be awesome. I’m not sure how long they’ve been out. It’s been several years.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: It’s varied. Russell Overton, the last one released, was just released last April. Ah, he did 38 years. Most of them were released in the last two to three years. Chris Turner, one of them who had absolutely no criminal record and a lot of good references was the first one released in 2010. But the others were much more recent, so he did just under 26 years. The others all did, uh, at least 32 years and one did up to 38 years.

Toby Dorr: And none of them have had any issues since they’ve gotten out. None of them have re-offended in any way. Is that true?

Thomas L. Dybdahl: That is true. They still have trouble though, you know, it dogs you because they do have these, this felony conviction. Initially, they were all on lifetime parole. Because Chris had absolutely no violations after 12 years, they did terminate his, but the others are on lifetime parole. Things happen all the time. Like if they get stopped for a traffic stop. This happened to Chris a couple of times. They run his record and see, oh, you’re on lifetime parole so, he would spend the night in jail just because his taillight was out until everything checked out. It’s been very difficult to get jobs because they go on interviews and people say oh, I think that was great. Let us just do a few checks and we’ll get back to you. And then they never do. They suddenly see that this guy just spent. 25, 30, 35 years in prison for murder. And they’re like, sorry, they don’t call.

Toby Dorr: I can relate. I never was able to get a job when I got out of prison, and I had been a corporate manager. I had college degrees, but nobody wants to hire you if you’re a felon. And so, I started my own business because I had to support myself somehow. But it is so hard, and sometimes it’s hard to find a place to live too. A lot of apartment complexes, they do background checks, and it’s just really tough to come out and get started again.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: Well, and yeah, I mean, take Chris, he comes outta prison, they give him $50 and a bus ticket back to DC right?

Toby Dorr: That doesn’t take you very far. Hardly buys you two meals, you know, so I can relate. It’s a really tough struggle. Justice Douglass wrote, society wins not only when the guilty are convicted, but when criminal trials are fair, our system suffers when any accused is treated unfairly. That seems to make so much sense, but it’s not really how it works. I know when I listened to you at your book signing event, I was filled with rage against the injustice of this particular case. Most of us can feel outraged but have no idea how we can make an impact. What can we do as individuals to make a difference?

Thomas L. Dybdahl: I think there are several things. I know it’s frustrating when you think, well, I’m just one person. What can I do? The first thing obviously is to learn about the situation, to take time, to look into it, to read, to meet with people. And, then I think two things specifically is that with the Brady Rule, there are a couple of states that have realized that the rule is failing, that it’s not working. That prosecutors are regularly withholding favorable evidence. And so they have passed a new law. This happened in North Carolina and actually in Texas, which, neither of which are considered highly progressive states. With regard to criminal justice, but in response to some just really egregious examples of Brady violations that led people actually, in both cases, people were on death row because of Brady violations who were absolutely innocent. The people said, we have to stop this. So, they have a state law that requires prosecutors to basically share their whole file with the defense, and it also requires some reciprocal openness from the defense. But despite prosecutors in particular saying, well, this will ruin the system. It can’t work this way. It actually has, it’s made the system more open. It’s led to fairer trials. People can get involved in that, talk to their legislate legislators about changing the law because as things stand judges, the system itself is not gonna correct it. Take decisions about the disclosure of evidence away from prosecutors and make it simply a requirement in any criminal case. And I think when we do that, if we can do that and people can influence their legislators, that’s true, then we could change this situation and wipe out what is currently, as you noted, the largest reason behind wrongful convictions is Brady violations. Hiding favorable evidence.

Toby Dorr: I think another thing we could probably do to help is to make ourselves aware of these conflicts in our justice system and when we are called to jury duty rather than trying to find a way out of it, go and be a juror and be a fair juror who looks at the whole story. And don’t let yourself, be blinded by arguments maybe that you see holes in.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: Right. Absolutely. I think that’s very important. And I will also say I think it’s really important if people have the time to visit prisons, to visit prisoners, to meet, these people. To realize that they’re not aliens or subhuman. They’re people just like us who have made mistakes, who have had struggles, but who also still have hopes and dreams, many of whom, should probably not be there at all. And when we know them and get involved with their lives, we can make a difference.

Toby Dorr: And they’re really not scary people. You know, people think everyone in prison is a scary person to be around. And they’re really not. There’s decent people in there. And I remember when I was in prison, this women’s group at a church came in two or three times a year, and they brought in hairdressers and cut and styled our hair, which was such a blessing because it’s just so nice to have someone giving you a scalp, scalp massage and cutting your hair and you feel like a princess again. You feel like a real person. And it’s such a beautiful gift, and there’s those kinds of opportunities. There’s jails and prisons everywhere, and if you are a member of a church or you’re a member of a woman’s group or a Bible study or anything, you know, look for opportunities where maybe you could go in and do something to make a difference in someone’s life. I think that’s important.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: Absolutely.

Toby Dorr: Tom, is there a question you wish I’d asked you that I didn’t or something else you’d like to share with us?

Thomas L. Dybdahl: Uh, I, well, you asked a lot of good questions. I, I think you, you didn’t ask me why, specifically why I wrote this book. I did write it because, first, I was fascinated with the Catherine Fuller murder case. Of how such a high-profile case, such a, a brutal case, a case that was in the news everywhere, how it could go so wrong. And how so many people could be wrongly convicted. So, I wanted to tell that story, but I also wanted to be hopeful because as we touched on, I don’t think the Brady rule itself can be saved. I think it will always leave decisions on disclosure of evidence in the hands of prosecutors, and they’ll always be conflicted about giving favorable evidence to the defense. And so, we need to take it away from them. Put it in a legislative form that prosecutors must share information, and I think they will. And we can make that happen. And if we do, we’ll be sparing hundreds and hundreds of innocent people’s lives and all the collateral damage and cost that comes with wrongful convictions. We can stop that from happening with the Brady Rule by changing the law. And then I think society wins if we have fair and just trials.

Toby Dorr: Society wins every time.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: Absolutely. We all win. And nobody wants a system that convicts innocent people. We all want a system that is fair and just, and we’ve gotta recognize we don’t have that now, but we can work toward it in several ways.

Toby Dorr: I think that’s beautiful. Tom, thanks so much for being here with us. I hope your book, when Innocence is Not Enough, continues to raise awareness and outrage. True justice is at stake. Thanks for taking a stand and opening our eyes.

Thomas L. Dybdahl: Thank you for having me.

Toby Dorr: You’re welcome. Remember, none of us is our worst mistake. We all have so much more to offer the world, and those so-called mistakes are blessed opportunities to learn and grow. Next week, we’ll continue to bring you inspiring stories by people who’ve identified a need for change and are working to make a difference in the world. Subscribe to our Patreon channel, Fierce Conversations for special access and behind the scenes info. Go to conversations or click on the link in the show notes. Ten percent of the Patreon proceeds provide workbooks to women in prisons. The show notes will also provide a link to purchase Tom’s book when Innocence is Not Enough, and a link to purchase my memoir, Living with Conviction. As I talk about in depth in my memoir, I had a conversation in prison where my friend Lisa told me ‘In here we can talk about all the hard things. In fact, I think we must.’ And so, we shall. This is Fierce Conversations with Toby, where we talk about the hard things. Until next time.

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