Debbie Jones picked out Thomas McGowan as her rapist from a photo lineup. She had no doubt that McGowan was the right man. He was convicted, primarily on her testimony, and Jones did her best to move on with her life. The only problem was that McGowan was innocent. Over 20 years later, McGowan was exonerated through DNA testing.
Victims are sometimes overlooked as a consequence of wrongful conviction. Media and social programs are aimed at exonerees who have had sometimes huge chunks of their lives stolen. However, victims are also negatively affected. They are victimized again through reliving the crime and suffer incredible guilt and confusion. Jones told The Dallas Observer, “It’s a totally different phenomenon with a rape victim than an exoneree. You do get victimized again. Quite frankly, I think the second time’s almost worse than the first time, because you have that much more to deal with.”
When Jones was told that McGowan was innocent, she was in disbelief. She still believed that McGowan had raped her. She only came to the realization that McGowan was innocent after hearing the taped confession of the actual perpetrator.
After the exoneration, Jones became so depressed that she considered suicide. “People don’t understand how hard it is going through this, and what a horrible thing it is to find out that you were part of a man going to jail that was wrongly accused. There’s a lot of guilt with that,” she told The Dallas Observer.
Not only does Jones have to live with the fact that she helped put an innocent man in prison, but also the guilt that her actual rapist went on to rape another woman years later. “You know if you’d picked the right person, then you would have prevented somebody else from being raped. It’s a lot to deal with,” she says.
Jones is also angry with the laws that will allow her rapist to be released in 2016. He cannot be charged with her rape because the statute of limitations has expired. “I want the law changed,” Jones says. “I want to be able to hold [him] responsible. … If you made the law, you can change it.”
Jones is telling her story in the hopes that she will be able to change the law and to pass on what she’s learned to other victims. She says she’s learned a lot about forgiveness and dealing with victimization. She and McGowan still occasionally talk through emails and texts. “I never ever could have imagined that I would actually be friends with him,” she says. “That I would sit on a plane with him. That I could speak with him. That I could hug him.”
Read the full story in The Dallas Observer here.