James Bain, Exonerated After 35 Years In Prison, Visits Seminar
James Bain spent 35 years in prison before DNA test proved he was innocent.
Lakeland Police Chief Lisa Womack spoke at the Criminology Seminar on October 27.
LAKELAND (Nov. 3, 2011) – More than 270 people in the United States have been set free from prison after DNA tests proved they were innocent. James Bain served more time than any of them before he was set free – 35 years.
Bain was a guest speaker on Nov. 1 in Dr. Risdon Slate’s Criminology Seminar, along with Robert Young, a retired Polk County Circuit Judge who now works for the Public Defender’s Office. Dr. Slate arranged for several guest speakers, some of whom are FSC alumni who work in all parts of the criminal justice system, to speak in the seminar throughout the semester. Bain and Young were the final guests to address the students.
Bain was 19 when he was convicted in 1974 of the rape of a 9-year-old boy who had been abducted from his home in Lake Wales, even though Bain had an alibi and his blood type did not match the blood type of the assailant. DNA testing was not available until about 1990, and the courts repeatedly denied Bain’s petitions for a reexamination of the case until The Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization dedicated to correcting wrongful convictions, took his case. In 2009, Bain received a hearing, and a judge found him innocent.
Dr. Slate and his students marveled at Bain’s humility and lack of bitterness. Asked how he managed to hold out hope, Bain replied that he was sustained by faith in God and inspiration from the African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
“I was looking at people who risked their lives, anyone trying to achieve something to help others,” he said.
While he was in prison, Bain’s grandmother and other relatives died. He worked in the prison laundry and learned welding. He taught himself to play chess.
“Always try to do something to stay positive,” he said.
The Polk County Public Defender’s Office was asked by The Innocence Project to assist in getting Bain’s case before the court on the grounds of new evidence. Young said it was “an honor” to represent Bain.
“For deeply held reasons coming from a deep strength, he has been able to put it behind him,” he said.
Bain received a $1.7 million settlement from the State of Florida – $50,000 for every year he spent in prison. He lives in Tampa and recently married Mallelin Duran, who has a 4-year-old daughter. He said he is still a bit befuddled by the changes in society during his imprisonment and hasn’t learned to use a computer yet.
Bain may have been the most riveting speaker during the seminar, but students heard about the criminal justice system from all points of view throughout the semester. The investigation of crimes, the prosecution and defense of those accused, and the supervision of convicts released on probation were all topics of discussion.
Among other guest speakers were Denie Garrett, an assistant public defender for Polk County, and Nancy Cobb ’03, an investigator with the Public Defender’s Office; Justin Bachand ’03, a probation officer for the Department of Corrections; Lizz Mendenhall ’06, a criminal intelligence analyst with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office; Circuit Court Judge John Radabaugh; and Lakeland Police Department Chief Lisa Womack.
The strengths and the flaws of American criminal justice were honestly discussed, and James Bain clearly represented a failure of the system. Yet Bain was philosophical with respect to those who had accused, arrested and prosecuted him.
“I don’t blame the family for what they did. They did what they thought was best for the child,” he said. He added that the police and the courts “have a job to do.”
Bain is considering the possibility of going into prison ministry. Asked why he would want to go back into prisons after spending most of his life there, he said, “There are people in there I’d like to talk to, to give them hope.”