Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption
Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton with Erin Torneo
“The story of Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton, as told in first-person voices in this gripping, well-written book, is exceptional.”—St. Petersburg Times
In 1984, Jennifer Thompson was raped at knifepoint by a man who broke into her apartment while she slept. She was able to escape, and because she had studied his face intently during the attack, she later identified Ronald Cotton as her attacker. Ronald insisted that she was mistaken—but Jennifer’s positive identification was the evidence that compelled a jury to put him behind bars. After eleven years in prison, Ronald was allowed to take a DNA test that proved his innocence. He was released after serving more than a decade in prison for a crime he never committed. Two years later, Jennifer and Ronald met face to face. They forged an unlikely friendship that changed both of their lives. In their own words, Jennifer and Ronald unfold the harrowing details of their tragedy, and challenge ideas about memory and judgment while demonstrating the profound nature of human grace and the healing power of forgiveness.
Jennifer Thompson-Cannino lives in North Carolina with her family. She speaks frequently about the need for judicial reform and is a member of the North Carolina Actual Innocence Commission.
Ronald Cotton speaks at various schools and conferences about issues of witness identification and judicial reform. He lives in North Carolina with his family.
Erin Torneo is a Los Angeles-based writer. She was a 2007 New York Foundation for the Arts Nonfiction Fellow.
Picking Cotton has been adopted for First-Year Experience programs at:
Concordia University (MN); East Carolina University (NC); Florida State College, Jacksonville; Georgia Gwinnett College; Georgia Perimeter College; Hilbert College (NY); Iowa Lakes Community College; North Carolina Central University; Pitt Community College (NC); Queensborough Community College (NY); Roberts Wesleyan College (NY); Somerset Community College (KY); University of Kentucky; University of Mount Olive (NC); University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; University of North Carolina at Pembroke; Wheelock College (MA)
Beyond the Book
Read Claudia Glenn Dowling’s People magazine article about Jennifer and Ronald, Mistaken Identity.
Dr. Gary Wells, professor of psychology at Iowa State University, has created an online test that simulates the challenge of eyewitness identification.
Part I: Lesley Stahl reports on flaws in eyewitness testimony that are at the heart of the DNA exonerations of falsely convicted people like Ronald Cotton, who was falsely accused of rape.
Part II: So how accurate is eyewitness testimony? As Lesley Stahl found out firsthand, memory is malleable and can easily be influenced and corrupted.