In matters of guilt and innocence, getting it right is time well spent

In the aftermath of the killing of a popular police officer, it’s only human nature to want someone to pay, and pay quickly. Sometimes, real life doesn’t work that way and there are good reasons it doesn’t.

Ryan Larson was released from jail today after prosecutors said they don’t have enough evidence to charge him in the shooting death of Cold Spring police officer Tom Decker last week.

If ever there was a compelling reason for news organizations to abide by their occasional policy of not naming suspects until a person is actually charged with a crime, this case may be it. But they didn’t and, already, social media is following a sadly predictable path.

“They better get him. They can’t let him get away with this,” one reader of WCCO’s Jason DeRusha commented on his Facebook page.

“He might want to fear for his life,” another said.

“That’s just not right!!” said a third.

Releasing Larson doesn’t mean he didn’t do it. It doesn’t mean he did do it. It means the justice system works.

What happens when it doesn’t?

Terry Harrington and Curtis McGhee think they know. The two served 25 years in prison for the 1977 murder of an Iowa police officer. The Iowa Supreme Court freed the pair in 2003 after it found prosecutors concealed reports about another man seen near the crime scene with a shotgun, and two key witnesses recanted their testimony. They said cops pressured them into implicating Harrington and McGee.

The two are seeking compensation now.

A year ago in Georgia, seven of the nine non-police witnesses recanted their original testimony that Troy Davis killed a police officer. A group of experts, including one from Minnesota, testified that the evidence presented in the case may have led to the wrong man being charged.

Georgia executed him anyway.

“We’re in the business of making sure that we convict guilty people and, at the same time, exonerate innocent folks,” Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Assistant Superintendent Drew Evans tells the Star Tribune.

We live in a TV-crime-drama world. Over the course of an hour, we expect crimes to be solved. But real life is more complicated and sometimes it takes time to make sure that justice is done.

And sometimes we just have to accept that it’s time well spent.