Title: Picking Cotton
Author: Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton with Erin Torneo
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
In 1984, college student Jennifer Thompson endured a brutal sexual assault. What happened that night shattered not only the victim’s life, but the lives of several people and their families. Mistaken identity, DNA, the power of memory, and race all figure into Picking Cotton, the incredible account of Thompson’s mistakenly identifying Ronald Cotton as her attacker, and his 11-year fight to clear his name.The bookis narrated by both Jennifer and Ronald. Part one belongs to Thompson, who describes her attack in great detail. While being raped at knifepoint, Thompson willed herself to memorize her attacker’s facial features. Eventually she managed to escape, later confidently telling police that she would be able to identify the intruder in a lineup. When she viewed the suspects, she immediately recognized Ronald Cotton, a local resident, as the perpetrator. Burning with rage, she testified against him at trial, then attempted to move on with her life. She reveals the problems with her then-boyfriend, her family’s complex reaction to her rape, and her brief experimentation with drugs. Eventually she married and had three children, and began to heal. Part two offers Cotton’s perspective,Cotton explains his poor background and the poor choices he made as an adolescent, then realizing that he was going to jail for a crime he did not commit. His description of jail life is shocking, detailing that while he tried to keep a low profile, he still constantly looked over his shoulder, ready to defend himself against attacks from fellow inmates. Cotton then met Thompson’s real attacker — fellow prisoner Bobby Poole, a criminal with a history of sexual assault. Cotton noticed his strong resemblance to Poole, and immediately contacted his lawyer, asking for a new trial. After a new trial was granted on appeal, Cotton amazingly was convicted again, this time for two rapes….Thompson’s and another woman’s, who was attacked the same night as Thompson. When Cotton returned to prison he often thought about killing Poole but what good would that do him? At that time DNA came into the public light, in which Cotton once again contacted his lawyers so they could get hid DNA. In the end DNA cleared him and he walked out of prison 11 years later as a free man. The last parts of the book go back and fourth between Thompson and Cotton about how they coped with Thompson’s picking the wrong person. She felt very guilty and to try to make light of a situation. Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson met for the first time. Towards the end of the book they started to make appearances together in the public eye. Making speeches and attending seminars how a mistake from a eyewitness can change everything. They became the best of friends actually. Who would have thought right? They even ended up saying “I Love You” at the end. That’s how strong their bond was. After a while Poole finally confessed to the rapes that he committed. However, before he was brought to trial he died in prison from cancer. Karma perhaps. You do wrong, you pay the price at the end.
I sympathsized with both of them. First with Jennifer because she had went through such a traumatic experience that who could have actually focused, then she had to deal with her parents lack of respect and then her boyfriend as well accusing her of actually liking it. I mean how sick is that? Then there’s poor Ronald in jail with all those criminals putting up with BS day in and day out. Trying to survive everyday and looking over his shoulder so something doesn’t happen to him. I must say he has a hell of a heart to have forgiven someone who made a mistake that cost him 11 years of his life.