UNCG Campus Weekly

Campus Weekly is published each Wednesday when classes are in session. In the summer, it is published biweekly.

The Wrong Man Behind Bars

033110Feature1_ThompsonCollege student Jennifer Thompson was raped at knifepoint in 1984 by a man who broke into her Burlington apartment while she slept. Her identification of Ronald Cotton as her attacker led to his conviction.

Cotton maintained his innocence and after more than a decade in Raleigh’s Central Prison was exonerated by a DNA test. When Cotton met Thompson-Cannino two years later they began an unlikely friendship. With Erin Torneo, they tell their story in the New York Times Bestseller “Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption.”

Thompson-Cannino (in visual) will give a free, public talk and sign copies of the book 4-6 p.m. Thursday, April 8, in Alumni House, Virginia Dare Room. The event is sponsored by the Department of Sociology and Friends of the UNCG Libraries.

The DNA test that exonerated Cotton implicated someone else in the DNA databank, Bobby Poole. Poole actually had been in Central Prison at the same time as Cotton and had told people that he raped Thompson. Poole was convicted of the crime.

In addition to demonstrating the value of DNA testing, the case raises questions about the reliability of eyewitness testimony. Thompson-Cannino says she studied her attacker during the crime in hopes of identifying him later, but she mistakenly chose Cotton out of a photo array and a lineup.

The story has been covered by a number of programs, including:

· 60 Minutes

· The Today Show

· The Diane Rehm Show

· All Things Considered

Originally published in 2009, “Picking Cotton” is now available in paperback and has been chosen as the freshman read at UNC Chapel Hill.