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Chester County Press

Picking Cotton: How an innocent man got a life sentence

03/16/2015 01:49PM ● By Steven Hoffman

She was raped. She identified her attacker. She was wrong.

Jennifer Thompson was a 22-year-old college senior in 1984 when she was brutally raped in her apartment. As the attacker held a knife to her throat, she focused on his face, memorizing every detail so that she could help authorities find and convict the man who was responsible.

After the attack, she worked with a sketch artist, looked at police mug shots, and picked Ronald Cotton out of a lineup. Based on her testimony, Cotton was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Eleven years later, Thompson found out that she was wrong. DNA evidence proved that her attacker was another man.

Thompson will speak about Picking Cotton, the book she co-authored with the man she sent to prison, on Tuesday, March 24, at 1:30 p.m. in the Neumann University Life Center. After her presentation, she will sign books in the McNichol Room at 3 p.m. The program is free and open to the public.

After Cotton was released from prison, Thompson contacted him to apologize. Their subsequent friendship, an astonishing story of forgiveness and redemption, led to the book, which was published in 2009.

Today, they speak at college campuses across the country to educate audiences about flaws in the criminal justice system. Together, they have successfully lobbied state legislators to abolish the death penalty and revise police lineup procedures.

Thompson has appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Sixty Minutes,” “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” “The View,” National Public Radio, and other media outlets.