Perhaps I have more in common with the Matthew Dicks of Des Moines, Iowa than just our names and our mug shots

Back in May of 2011, I wrote a post lamenting the fact that a person with the same name as me has been arrested in Des Moines:

Great. Someone who shares my name has been arrested and booked at the Polk Country Jail in Des Moines, Iowa for failure to pay child support.

You’d think my name is difficult enough without guys like this further besmirching it.

Recently, my namesake's girlfriend contacted me, asking me to remove the post. I initially balked at the request. The man’s mug shot is available online on Removing it from my blog wouldn’t remove it from the Internet entirely, and it wasn’t like that post, written more than three years ago, was garnering any traffic.

Then it occurred to me:

I have a mug shot as well. I’ve never seen it, and because it was taken in 1992, it’s unlikely to ever appear on the Internet. But in some police database, a photograph of me exists, alongside the charges of grand larceny and embezzlement.


I was not guilty of those crimes, and I was eventually exonerated at the end of a lengthy and expensive trial, but had I been arrested two decades later, I might be in this man’s same position. My mug shot might be posted on the Internet.

Elysha might be as upset as this man’s girlfriend clearly is.

Truthfully, I don’t even know if this man was guilty of a crime. Like me, perhaps he was falsely accused. There’s no more ardent supporter of the concept of  “innocent until proven guilty” than me.

Wasn’t placing his mug shot on my blog antithetical to that position?

Had it been my image posted on the Internet, I might want my mug shot to appear in as few places as possible, too.

And having been the victim of a widespread, illegal smear campaign later in my life, I understand the pain associated with someone attempting to destroy your reputation.

So I deleted the post. Honestly, I felt bad that I ever posted it in the first place. A Google Alert on my name had probably brought it to my attention, and finding it both coincidental and amusing, I decided to post it to my blog.

But had I thought about how much more that this man and I might have in common beyond just our name, I probably would’ve never posted it to begin with.

Posthumous vindication sucks.

On this date in 1456, Joan of Arc was declared innocent for heresy.

Unfortunately, she was declared innocent 25 years after she was burned at the stake.

Being incorrectly burned to death is certainly worse than losing your bout with cancer and dying just hours before being announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize for your work in cancer research that actually prolonged your life, but anything that happens posthumously to a person sucks.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

Death is hardest on the dead. 


There are many reasons why the death penalty should be abolished. But one reason should be reason enough.

Will Saletan lists six reasons why support for capital punishment is evaporating in the United States. All six are perfectly valid, and I actually agree with all of them, but really, there’s only one that matters:


Since 1973, 144 death row inmates have been exonerated of their crimes.

It’s impossible to think that the our government has not executed innocent people.


As a person who was arrested and tried for a crime he did not commit, I understand the how easily an innocent person can be accused of a crime and how easy it is to be wrongfully convicted.

In my case, the judge said, “I think you’re probably guilty, but there isn’t enough evidence to convict you. I hope you realize how close you came to going to prison.”

The arrest and trial, which took almost two years from beginning to end, changed my life forever. Had I gone to prison, I can’t imagine where I would be today.

I will never understand how supporters of the death penalty are able to ignore the dangers of executing an innocent man or woman. In the past 41 years, more than three people per year on average have been released from death row after proving their innocence.

These are statistics that cannot be ignored. And yet they are. Even with capital punishment rapidly losing support in this country and executions on the decline, more than 50% of respondents to a recent Gallup poll expressed support for the death penalty.

I suspect that their opinions on the matter would change if they were arrested for a crime they did not commit.

Faced with the evidence that this is happening, these people are unmoved. I have to assume it is the result of one of two things:

  1. An inability to empathize with people in positions different than their own
  2. A failure of imagination. They are simply unable to envision themselves or a loved one in a situation that they know is routinely taking place in this country.

Either way, it’s ridiculous. We need to end capital punishment (as most Western nations already have) because we cannot be a nation that accidentally, unintentionally execute innocent people.