Harrington said he believed he was protecting the community when he convinced a jury that Gates was the man who raped and killed Catherine Schilling, 21, a college student whose naked body was found in Rock Creek Park in 1981 with five bullet wounds to her head. Gates, all the while, maintained his innocence.
As lead prosecutor, Harrington based his case on several pieces of evidence. A hair taken from Gates was found to have matched a hair found on Schilling's body, according to an FBI forensics analyst. The hair, Harrington later said in court, was the "key" and the "link and the corroboration to every other evidence."
Harrington also relied on the testimony of a paid informant, who told authorities that Gates admitted to killing Schilling during a botched robbery. Gates told lawyers that he never met the informant to whom he supposedly confessed. Harrington said later that it was the first time he had put a paid informant on the witness stand during a trial.
Misconduct by police, prosecutors, judges, shoddy forensic work, jail house snitches, and unreliable witness identification are major factors in the growing list of wrongful convictions. This case has many of those elements.
The prosecutor in this case also reveals another contributing factor - community pressure to convict. Most state and local prosecutors are elected to office. The need to win drives some to ignore the facts and the rules in order to gain a conviction.
We know the causes of wrongful convictions, but what is being done to reduce them? So far, most of the progress has come from private efforts like the Innocence Project. The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission is an exception. But most states, including Idaho, are doing nothing to prevent wrongful convictions. And you wonder why confidence in the criminal justice system is low?