An Innocent Man Walks Free From A 60-Year Sentence With Help From A Journalist : NPR


This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. While serving a 60-year sentence with no chance of parole for an armed theft in New Orleans that he insisted he did not commit, Yutico Briley wrote dozens of letters to attorneys, innocence tasks and anybody he thought might assist him get out of jail. In 2019, after seven years in jail, he heard my visitor Emily Bazelon interviewed on FRESH AIR. We had been speaking about her guide “Charged,” about how prosecutors had gained breathtaking energy up to now 40 years and used it to place extra folks in jail, ripping aside poor communities, principally Black or brown. Briley wrote to her, however she did not even learn his letter till a few months later when a librarian in Oregon, who corresponded with Briley by way of a help program for incarcerated folks, received in contact with Bazelon, saying, Briley was attempting to contact her. Bazelon discovered Briley’s letter, started corresponding with him and have become satisfied his case was value trying into.

She contacted a number of attorneys, who declined to symbolize him, so she tried her sister Lara Bazelon, a professor of regulation on the University of San Francisco, the place she runs a legal justice clinic. Lara took on the case, and with the assistance of her college students, a personal detective and Emily, she was capable of attraction Briley’s case. He was exonerated in March. We’ll hear from Briley later within the present. But first, Emily Bazelon goes to inform us why she thinks Briley’s conviction and sentence appear typical of the inequality and waste of mass incarceration. Emily Bazelon’s article in regards to the case is the duvet story of The New York Times journal, the place she’s a workers author. She covers legal justice. Although she has a regulation diploma, she’s by no means practiced regulation. She’s a lecturer at Yale Law School.

Emily Bazelon, welcome again to FRESH AIR.

EMILY BAZELON: Thanks a lot for having me.

GROSS: You’d by no means intervened in a case earlier than, though you’ve got gotten many, many letters from prisoners asking on your assist. Why did you determine to maintain trying additional into Yutico Briley’s case?

BAZELON: You know, I’ve requested myself that query a variety of occasions as a result of I do not assume I actually had such a transparent purpose once I did it. You know, a part of it was simply that I might inform there was simply this sensible and humorous particular person behind the letter I’d gotten after which the messages I began to get from Yutico. And it simply appeared like such a waste that he had this 60-year sentence. I sort of could not get my thoughts round the concept a 19-year-old had mainly gotten a life sentence for an armed theft through which nobody was injured. And then, in fact, he stated he did not do it.

And the idea of his conviction principally was that one eyewitness, who was the sufferer of the armed theft, had recognized him. And this was an armed theft that came about at 2 within the morning at nighttime. And Yutico is Black, and the sufferer, the eyewitness, was white. And I do know that single-witness identifications, particularly after they’re cross-racial, that is, like – all of these are indications that the identification may not be dependable, not as a result of the eyewitness is not doing their greatest; simply, the elements concerned depart purpose for some doubt. So all of these issues actually mixed to make me really feel like, right here was this particular person, and he was so caught. And I did not actually assume there was essentially a narrative, and he actually did not want a journalist; he wanted a lawyer. I might see that clearly. And in order that’s why I began to name folks.

GROSS: One of the explanations Yutico wrote you was due to one thing that you just stated about weapons and younger folks arrested for carrying a gun with no allow. Tell us what you’d stated and the way related that was to his story and his imprisonment.

BAZELON: When I used to be reporting for my guide “Charged,” which I talked about on FRESH AIR – and that is how Yutico discovered about me – I reported so much on younger males in Brooklyn who’re carrying weapons. And they stated they had been carrying them for defense. In reality, carrying these weapons created a variety of hazard and danger for them as a result of upon getting a gun, different folks may even see you as violent; they could attempt to do one thing on the offense to you. And I knew that it was a sort of self-defeating mind-set about weapons. But I had heard it so many occasions, and I understood that for some younger males, the police usually are not a refuge. They do really feel legitimately like they’re in danger and like they must take some steps to guard themselves. So that is the dynamic that I wrote about and I used to be speaking about on the radio, and Yutico actually recognized with that.

GROSS: One of the explanation why he was arrested was as a result of a gun fell out of his pocket. Tell us the story of how he was arrested.

BAZELON: So he was strolling down the road one night time in New Orleans on this neighborhood referred to as Mid-City. He was with a number of buddies. It was, like, 8 o’clock at night time. He says they had been simply strolling down the road. The cops noticed him, and so they had an outline from an armed theft from the night time earlier than – younger Black man sporting a grey hoodie. And Yutico was a younger Black man, and he was sporting a grey hoodie. The police stated that he was additionally clutching his hip and sort of trying round his shoulder and that that is why they stopped him. Yutico says he wasn’t doing these issues. In any case, they stopped the automotive. They requested him to cease. And as a result of he had a gun, in violation of his parole, which he was on on the time, he ran. And so at that time, you realize, they’re operating after him; they’re arresting him for having the gun and for resisting arrest.

GROSS: And how did he find yourself being booked for the crime of the armed theft?

BAZELON: So in his telling, the subsequent morning, he is in jail, and so they give him this pink bracelet. And the bracelets in jail are color-coded for various sorts of offenses, and pink is for a violent offense. And so he says, that is the second he discovered that he was a suspect on this armed theft that had taken place mainly 18 hours earlier than he was arrested.

GROSS: Now, you talked about he was out on parole. That was for possession and intent to promote. It was not a violent crime.

BAZELON: That’s proper. When he was 17, he was arrested for possession and intent to promote medication, and he was convicted and given a brief jail sentence. But then he was nonetheless on parole for that offense when he was picked up when he was 19.

GROSS: So you talked about the one who was robbed and who recognized Yutico as being the one who robbed him at gunpoint. And the proof that you just talked about was that he was a Black particular person, a younger man sporting a hoodie. That describes, like, so many individuals. It would not appear to be an entire lot of proof to convict somebody on. And you talked about that it was darkish and that the sufferer was white and the – and Briley is Black. And it is tougher for folks to establish folks when the particular person they’re figuring out is from one other race, which is fascinating, however that is what the analysis exhibits. There had been different issues within the identification which can be generally typical of issues that go improper. One of the issues was, there wasn’t a lineup. He was – you realize, the sufferer was simply offered with Yutico and stated, hey, is that this the man? What’s improper with that?

BAZELON: Yeah, so it is a police process I had really by no means heard of earlier than. It’s referred to as a show-up. And so what occurred on this case was, they arrested Yutico for this unrelated offense of this – having a gun in violation of his parole. Then they referred to as the sufferer of the armed theft, and so they stated, are you able to come on right down to the police station? We have a potential suspect so that you can take a look at. And they introduced Yutico into the parking storage. He was standing there handcuffed beneath a light-weight, and the sufferer, from a police automotive, was requested – is that this the man? – after which stated sure, although the sufferer himself stated later in court docket that it was a very uncomfortable scenario that appeared unprofessional to him. So the issue with a show-up is that you just solely have one particular person you are . When eyewitnesses take a look at lineups, analysis exhibits they have a tendency to imagine that somebody within the group is the offender. And the issue with a show-up is which you can’t unfold out that assumption amongst a number of folks. You’re simply – you simply have one particular person to level to. And so a show-up – consultants say {that a} show-up is inherently suggestive as a result of there’s simply solely this one selection.

GROSS: But you describe analysis that questions identification within the first place, that it is usually actually arduous for the sufferer to really know, hours later or days later, if an individual who they’re proven is actually the perpetrator.

BAZELON: Yeah. So that is one other drawback with the show-up on this case. It didn’t happen instantly after the armed theft. It was 20 hours later. And over time, eyewitnesses’ recollections are likely to blur. The primary drawback is we’re simply not excellent, as human beings, at remembering the sorts of distinctive facial options that actually separate one particular person from one other. So we keep in mind issues like – did you have got a mustache? You know, perhaps what colour eyes did you have got? – however not, like, the very particular points of individuals’s options. And the longer the time passes between an preliminary viewing and our efforts to retrieve that reminiscence, the tougher it’s for these very particular sorts of particulars to actually stay retrievable within the mind.

GROSS: If you are simply becoming a member of us, my visitor is Emily Bazelon. Her article “Can You Please Help Me Get Out Of Prison?” is the duvet story of this week’s New York Times Magazine. We’ll be proper again after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let’s get again to my interview with Emily Bazelon, a journalist who writes in regards to the legal justice system.

Yutico’s lawyer was James Williams – his first lawyer. And you say that folks such as you who cowl the legal justice system know him by fame. What’s his fame?

BAZELON: So Jim Williams, such as you stated, is a former prosecutor. And when he labored within the district lawyer’s workplace in New Orleans within the Eighties, he was recognized for having a miniature duplicate of an electrical chair on his desk. And it really jolted whenever you touched it ‘trigger it had a battery in it. Fixed to this little electrical chair had been the images of 5 males, all of them Black, whom Williams prosecuted and who had been sentenced to loss of life. Two of these folks had been later exonerated. And the rationale I learn about this mini electrical chair is that Williams really posed for {a photograph} of himself with it in Esquire journal within the Eighties.

GROSS: So the photographs of the 5 Black males sentenced to loss of life – he was happy with that, that they had been sentenced to loss of life?

BAZELON: Yes, apparently, he was.

GROSS: Why did Yutico need him, Williams, to symbolize him?

BAZELON: Yutico had the concept Williams was an excellent lawyer to have in Jefferson Parish, which is the parish subsequent to New Orleans. And, you realize, generally people who find themselves former prosecutors open protection practices. And, you realize, defendants do not at all times know every thing they’ve executed earlier than. And I believe lots of people have the concept they’ve to rent a lawyer in the event that they get arrested – that in the event that they take the free lawyer from the federal government, that is going to be worse than the particular person they’ll rent. And so I believe that performed into why Williams was representing Yutico on this case.

GROSS: Part of your article is in regards to the cascading impact whenever you’re being tried. If you insist in your innocence, there’s issues that may preserve going improper that make it tougher and tougher and tougher so that you can show your case. And this is likely one of the issues that occurred with Yutico. There was sure proof he needed his lawyer, James Williams, to get that was by no means gotten. So what was that proof?

BAZELON: Yeah. So the primary time that Yutico talked to Mr. Williams, he stated, I’ve an alibi, and my alibi is that I used to be at a lodge throughout the time this armed theft came about. It’s referred to as the Evergreen Motel. If you get the surveillance footage from the foyer, you will see me getting in at about midnight. And so this surveillance footage – Yutico stated, for those who get it, it’ll clear me. And he additionally gave the identify of an individual he was with that night time and urged getting his cellphone data, which might have confirmed that he was at this motel and never in Mid-City, the place the armed theft came about.

The drawback was that Jim Williams and his workplace waited to file a subpoena with the motel to get the video surveillance footage. And then it turned out that they had made a mistake. They requested for the improper hours. Instead of getting midnight to three a.m., which coated the interval of the armed theft, they received 12 p.m. to three p.m., which was irrelevant. And as a result of that they had waited, when the general public defender who then took up the case got here in and tried to file a subpoena for the right hours, the wanted video surveillance footage that Yutico had sought all alongside, she could not get it as a result of the motel had taped over it.

GROSS: So that is a reasonably main factor that went improper. What in regards to the cellphone?

BAZELON: Yeah. So the primary lawyer, Jim Williams, by no means filed any sort of subpoena for the cellphone data. After he left the case, as a result of Yutico could not preserve paying his charges, the general public defender tried to get these cellphone data. But she solely had the case for a short interval. This is a public defender named Lauren Boudreaux. She was taking all the suitable steps. But Yutico’s household needed a personal lawyer to symbolize him, and so she did not have the case for very lengthy. A couple of latest personal attorneys got here in and took the case earlier than Yutico’s trial. They didn’t observe up about getting the cellphone data, and so Yutico went to trial with none alibi proof.

GROSS: I’m attempting to think about what it was like for Yutico, figuring out that each one the proof that he had in his favor, his alibi, which might have been, like, bodily proof of the place he was simply, like, disappeared.

BAZELON: I imply, I believe it was horrible. He was actually anxious about it, and he was so anxious that he was actually serious about pleading responsible on the morning of the trial. He’d been supplied a 12-year jail sentence for pleading responsible. And, you realize, it is arduous to think about, not less than for me – I believe for many individuals – pleading responsible to a criminal offense that you just did not commit, which is what he says. But in this type of scenario, the place you are dealing with successfully a life sentence for those who go to trial – as a result of that is what the prosecutors had been saying would occur – versus 12 years, it may be a rational determination to make to plead responsible even for those who’re harmless. So Yutico says he got here into court docket that morning. He had talked to his dad about it. His dad was saying, that is simply too massive a danger so that you can take; you possibly can gamble your entire life away. And so Yutico says, yeah, I used to be actually serious about pleading responsible that morning as a result of it simply appeared hopeless.

GROSS: And are plea affords like this coercive within the sense that, had he not been supplied a plea – 12 years for those who plead responsible, a 60-year sentence for those who’re discovered responsible – if it wasn’t for the plea, do you assume the sentence would have been that prime?

BAZELON: Yeah, that is an incredible query. I imply, in Louisiana, the regulation permits prosecutors to do that so long as – or particularly if a defendant like Yutico has a previous document. And in order that single nonviolent drug offense meant that the prosecutors might threaten this extremely excessive sentence and that it was very sensible {that a} decide was going to mete out a sentence like that. Whether that is coercive or not, you realize, I believe there – I believe that is a matter of opinion.

What I can let you know is that it is constitutional within the eyes of the Supreme Court. Defendants, beginning within the Nineteen Seventies, actually requested to problem this follow. They’ve stated, you realize, that is coercive, and it provides prosecutors a lot energy if there isn’t any restrict on the sentence that they’ll threaten. And the Supreme Court mainly stated, too unhealthy; if the regulation permits prosecutors to say there’s going to be this large sentence for those who select to go to trial, properly, which may burden your proper to go to trial, which is within the Constitution, nevertheless it’s not one thing that’s such a burden that we’re really going to restrict prosecutors in any method. And that is nonetheless the regulation.

GROSS: The DA in New Orleans on the time of Yutico’s trial and sentencing was Leon Cannizzaro, and his workplace prosecuted Briley. What was he recognized for?

BAZELON: He was recognized for being actually punitive and for utilizing this routine offender statute, which permits prosecutors to threaten efficient life sentences way more usually than most different district attorneys, even in Louisiana. So yeah. He was referred to as a very hard-charging prosecutor. He’d additionally gotten some nationwide consideration as a result of at one level, he was placing folks in jail in the event that they introduced a home violence criticism however then refused to testify. So the concept was, OK, you are a home violence sufferer. We need you to testify. If you refuse, we will put you in jail till you cooperate.

GROSS: OK, so you have got a DA who is thought for being, you realize, very powerful and for lengthy sentences. Who was the decide within the trial, and what was he recognized for?

BAZELON: The decide within the trial was named Franz Zibilich, and he was additionally recognized for being powerful. He’d been on the bench for a number of years when Yutico’s trial occurred, and he had a fame for transferring circumstances alongside shortly and effectively, which he thought was a giant plus. In Yutico’s case, what that meant was that Yutico went to trial solely 5 months after he was arrested. And on the morning of the trial, the brand new protection attorneys got here in, and so they stated, we want extra time to arrange; we filed a discover that we’re planning to placed on a alibi proof, however we do not have that proof but. And the decide stated, too unhealthy; you are asking too late; we’re going to trial right this moment.

GROSS: Had it not been for you and Lara, your sister, he’d nonetheless be in jail dealing with the rest of a 60-year sentence.

BAZELON: Yeah, I imply, I believe one of many classes of this case that is so essential is that undoing a conviction is commonly far tougher than stopping it within the first place. So if you concentrate on a trial, to win at a trial, the state has a really excessive burden of proving guilt past an affordable doubt. Once you progress on to an attraction, the burden shifts to the defendant, and the defendant has to point out that one thing within the course of went very improper as a way to justify the difficulty and expense of beginning another time with a brand new trial. So this trial, you realize, Lara argued and I believe convincingly confirmed, actually wasn’t truthful for all the explanations we have been speaking about. But when Lara received the case, it was enormously arduous to get again into court docket to placed on the sort of proof that might persuade a brand new decide to start out another time. She actually had an enormous quantity of labor to do.

GROSS: There’s extra I wish to speak with you about, however we have to take a brief break right here, so let me reintroduce you. If you are simply becoming a member of us, my visitor is Emily Bazelon. Her article “Can You Please Help Me Get Out Of Prison?” is the duvet story of this week’s New York Times journal. We’ll speak extra after a break. I’m Terry Gross, and that is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. Let’s get again to my interview with Emily Bazelon. She’s a journalist who writes in regards to the legal justice system. Her article “Can You Please Help Me Get Out of Prison?” is the duvet story of this week’s New York Times journal. It’s about an incarcerated man named Yutico Briley serving a 60-year sentence for an armed theft he insisted he did not commit. He wrote dozens of individuals asking for assist. None was supplied till Emily Bazelon learn his letter and began corresponding with him. After changing into satisfied that his case illustrates a number of the flaws of our legal justice system, she talked along with her sister Lara, a regulation professor on the University of San Francisco School of Law, the place she runs a legal justice clinic. Lara took on the case, received an attraction and Briley’s exoneration. We’ll hear from Briley later within the present.

So getting again to your 2019 guide, “Charged,” it was about how prosecutors had been gaining a lot energy within the legal justice system and utilizing it to place folks behind bars, usually with actually harsh sentences, resulting in an increasing number of mass incarceration, and that a variety of it was impacting principally Black and brown neighborhoods. But there’s additionally now a motion of progressive reform prosecutors who’re attempting to reform the legal justice system and discover options to mass incarceration. There was an election in 2020 through which some progressives in New Orleans had been elected, and that was a turning level on your sister Lara and her try and attraction the case. So who was changed and who was elected that made it such a turning level?

BAZELON: Yeah, so there’s this marketing campaign happening for district lawyer and for a brand new decide in New Orleans with these two challengers who’re operating on progressive platforms. So you have got Jason Williams, the City Council member who’s a protection lawyer. He’s operating for district lawyer. And then you have got this former public defender named Angel Harris, and he or she’s operating to switch Judge Zibilich. And Lara and I are watching these campaigns at this second the place it simply looks as if Yutico’s attraction is fairly hopeless. And then the voters of New Orleans, by substantial majorities, they elected Jason Williams, and so they elected Angel Harris. And hastily, there’s, like, this opening. It actually was an unbelievable lesson in how a lot elections matter.

GROSS: So what modified when it comes to Yutico Briley’s case with the brand new progressives?

BAZELON: So Lara requested to speak to Jason Williams about Yutico’s case, and I requested to come back alongside as a journalist. And so Lara sat down with Jason Williams, and he or she laid out the case, and it was only a utterly completely different reception than she had beforehand gotten from Cannizzaro’s deputies within the workplace. Jason Williams requested a variety of questions. He was involved in regards to the sufferer. You know, in a variety of methods, he noticed this show-up ID process the police used as actually organising the sufferer for failure. And he was involved about Yutico Briley. He stated to Lara, this case has all of the issues. And I believe what he meant by that was racial injustice and an innocence declare and extreme punishment. And, you realize, Lara and I walked away from this assembly, and we each had this sense of like, wow, there could be some hope for Yutico. I imply, it was actually the primary signal that there could be some hope.

GROSS: What was she capable of current on attraction that helped win his exoneration?

BAZELON: Well, I believe one piece of proof that was essential to the district lawyer’s workplace had been tapes of the calls Yutico created from jail when he was first arrested. You can hear him on these calls actually begging his first lawyer and individuals who labored for him to get this alibi proof, simply professing his innocence from the beginning in a method that urged that he actually did wish to get this alibi proof. Everything he had informed us in regards to the case was true. It all sort of panned out and matched up with what he was saying on these calls. And then I believe Lara was capable of present simply this cascading collection of errors that had been made.

One of the ways in which she characterizes this case was to speak a couple of sort of informal indifference on the a part of nearly everybody who touched it. And I believe when she laid that out for this new district lawyer and this new decide, it simply appeared like Yutico was sitting in jail due to an entire bunch of errors and since no person had actually cared that a lot about whether or not he was harmless or responsible.

GROSS: Why do you assume no person cared? What is it an indication of?

BAZELON: You know, I believe that whenever you’re a younger Black man with a gun, folks make a variety of assumptions about you. Once you are snatched up into the legal justice system, you professing your innocence – it is simply not sufficient. Like, persons are not listening. Either they assume that you just’re responsible, or they do not actually care whether or not you probably did this explicit crime as a result of they assume you should be responsible of one thing. I imply, that was one thing that a number of the jurors we talked to from Yutico’s case stated was sort of within the air within the jury room.

And to me, it simply goes to point out how the deck may be stacked in opposition to you for those who’re somebody like Yutico. It would not matter that, you realize, Yutico was, like, a star pupil in highschool. He was actually popular with classmates throughout traces of race and sophistication. But it is as if all these components of your self and your life fall away, and also you’re simply lowered to the stereotype. Like, you are simply this younger Black man in a hoodie with a gun, and nobody appears extra carefully. No one appears past that.

GROSS: Your grandfather was a decide who served on the U.S. Court of Appeals within the D.C. Circuit. He served for, like, three a long time, and he wrote a few majority opinions that had been actually related to Yutico’s case. Can you describe one in all them?

BAZELON: Yeah. I imply, this discovery for me and speaking about this with Lara was one of the particular components of this expertise. So my grandfather had a few circumstances in 1969 and 1972 the place the police did a show-up ID. And, you realize, in a single case, there was this Black suspect, and so they put him in a police automotive, and so they drove him as much as the white sufferer to establish, and my grandfather stated, it is a actually dangerous option to establish somebody. And even then, he was very conscious of the hazards of misidentification, particularly throughout race. So, you realize, once I learn these opinions through which he stated – you realize what? – these defendants deserve a brand new trial – that actually struck me as prescient, and it simply made me really feel linked, and it made each Lara and me really feel linked to this entire authorized historical past.

GROSS: So when it comes to the misidentification of suspects, there have been different issues that had been discrepancies within the witness’ testimony, within the testimony of the one who was robbed. One needed to do with the outline of Yutico’s hoodie that night time. It was a grey hoodie, however there was a query of was it a pullover, or was it a zipper? Can you discuss that somewhat bit? And, you realize, did he have a beard, or did he not have a beard?

BAZELON: Yeah. There had been some key discrepancies. So the sufferer of the theft, when he referred to as 911, stated that the robber had a slim construct, and he did not point out any facial hair. Yutico was pretty heavyset on the time of this armed theft, and he had a beard and mustache. And you are additionally proper in regards to the hoodie. The preliminary description was completely different from the sort of hoodie Yutico was sporting. So for those who take a look at the specifics on this description, it is in no way clear that it was a exact match for Yutico.

GROSS: I’ve a few grey hoodies. I imply…



GROSS: …Like, who would not? Really, like who would not have a grey hoodie?

BAZELON: I do know. I even have one. I hear you.

GROSS: Was there any proof in opposition to Yutico aside from that the one who was robbed recognized him because the robber, regardless that it was darkish, regardless that many hours had elapsed for the reason that theft came about, regardless that there have been discrepancies in what the eyewitness stated the robber was sporting and what Yutico was really sporting? Was the eyewitness testimony that it was him the one proof?

BAZELON: I imply, actually, just about. The solely different reality I believe is related right here is that Yutico was caught with a gun that was the identical sort of gun the sufferer stated was used within the armed theft. But it was a quite common gun. I imply, a pistol that 1000’s of individuals – you realize, most likely even tons of of individuals in New Orleans – might have had on the time. And there was no document of any sort of distinctive marking on the gun. So proper, this actually is a case that comes down to at least one eyewitness’s testimony.

GROSS: So when Yutico was exonerated, the decide stated to him, I simply need you to remain robust and keep inspired and to not permit this to offer you a bitterness for a system that has, the truth is, failed you.

What was it like so that you can hear the decide say, yeah, the system failed you?

BAZELON: Well, I used to be actually relieved to listen to her say that, as a result of I believe reckoning with the failures of the system is the one option to repair it. And there was an honesty about her recognition that in some methods, he is being requested to do one thing that’s an excessive amount of. Like, if the system fails you, what do you do with that? And I believe what the decide was saying was, you need to transfer ahead with your individual life regardless of all of this. I imply, one factor that went by way of my thoughts in that second is that the state just isn’t giving Yutico any sort of monetary compensation for his wrongful conviction. The purpose for that’s sort of technical. Louisiana has a regulation the place for those who’ve contributed in any option to your individual arrest, you are not eligible for any sort of compensation. And so the truth that Yutico ran from the police and had a gun is sufficient to imply that he cannot get any damages from the state, regardless that that has nothing to do along with his false conviction for this armed theft. So I used to be serious about that. I imply, it is vastly essential for Yutico to get his freedom again, and the decide was giving it to him. But the state was additionally actually leaving him to fend for itself, even because the decide was admitting that what had occurred to him was deeply unfair.

GROSS: Emily Bazelon, it is nice to have you ever again on the present once more, and congratulations on serving to to rescue a life.

BAZELON: Thank you a lot, Terry. I actually recognize it.

GROSS: Emily Bazelon writes about legal justice and is a workers author at The New York Times Magazine. Her article about Yutico Briley, titled “Can You Please Help Me Get Out Of Prison?”, is the duvet story of this week’s journal. Yutico Briley will be a part of us after we take a brief break. This is FRESH AIR.


THE ROOTS: (Vocalizing).

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. My visitor is Yutico Briley, whose case I simply mentioned with Emily Bazelon, a journalist who covers the legal justice system. He’s the topic of her article titled “Can You Please Help Me Get Out Of Prison?”, which is the duvet story of this week’s New York Times Magazine. Briley was sentenced to 60 years in jail for an armed theft in New Orleans in 2012 that he stated he did not commit. Bazelon was one in all dozens of individuals he wrote to from jail asking for assist to show his innocence. But nobody was – besides Bazelon After corresponding with him, she thought his story was an instance of the inequality of mass incarceration. Bazelon described the case to her sister, Lara Bazelon, a lawyer who’s a professor on the University of San Francisco School of Law, the place she directs a legal justice clinic. Lara determined to symbolize Briley and received his attraction and his exoneration. He was launched in March. Now, on the age of 28, Briley is beginning a brand new life and dealing with the difficulties so many individuals face after being launched from jail. He’s becoming a member of us from his dwelling in New Orleans.

Yutico Briley, welcome to FRESH AIR. Congratulations on being on the skin, on getting out. My first query is a query that you possibly can most likely discuss for hours or perhaps for years. And it is a actually massive query, and I apologize if it is too massive. But what did it really feel like whenever you had been in jail serving a 60-year sentence – and also you had served seven years of this earlier than Emily Bazelon, you realize, reached out to you – after you reached out to her (laughter). So what was it prefer to know that you just did not do the crime however you had been sentenced to 60 years, and also you had been serving a lot time in jail and nobody on the skin believed you?

YUTICO BRILEY: Well, to say the least, it was excruciating. I imply, so far as anxietywise and – you realize, it – simply at one level being completely hopeless and – so simply dealing and attempt to dealing with that. I nonetheless, like, proper now, do not even know the way I did it. But simply throughout these occasions, I simply keep in mind feeling like I needed to simply recognize the small issues, like waking up day-after-day (laughter). You know, considering that my freedom was so far-off at one time to the place, like, I discovered myself on this horrible place, however, OK, this the worst-case state of affairs and this the best-case state of affairs.

GROSS: You wrote to so many individuals. You wrote to about 60 folks asking for assist, and so they all turned you down aside from Emily. And she nearly did not even open the letter that you just despatched. How did you determine who to put in writing?

BRILEY: Anybody who I really feel like, at the moment, who might assist me ‘trigger it was like, I received nothing to lose. So I’m – I’d be studying a newspaper article. And they could be speaking about, properly, this regulation clinic or this lawyer or this – you realize, I did not flip by way of the regulation books and name personal investigators, simply all sort of stuff. I would see one thing on TV like – and simply inform my folks, properly, look; might you Google this identify and provides me, like, a contact information. I wrote a person in Nebraska. I had a highschool good friend. He despatched me an article on JPay, which is the e-mail server that me and Emily used to put in writing on. And it was mainly a couple of man that was convicted in, like, Nebraska about armed theft or one thing. And he ended up getting out of jail and writing books and all sort of stuff. And I had informed my sister – I informed her, Google his contact information. And my sister was like, properly, why you need – and I’m similar to, properly, you realize, longshot. Like, you realize, I simply was attempting every thing.

GROSS: When the decide exonerated you, she stated, I simply need you to remain robust and keep inspired and to not permit this to offer you a bitterness for a system that has, the truth is, failed you. What was your response when she stated that? She admitted the system had failed you. And she additionally requested you to not be bitter in regards to the system.

BRILEY: Well, due to my experiences with – I’m going to even say earlier than I went to jail. It’s like, with my father being in jail, my uncle, I instantly knew what she was speaking about. When she informed me, like, you realize, do not be bitter or do not maintain onto it and do not let this maintain you again – making a behavior out of it, you realize? And folks attempt to do it with me, the place they will be like, properly, you’ve got been gone eight years. You’ve been – you realize, you have not been launched that lengthy. And that is what she was which means. Don’t let your previous have an effect on your future. Don’t let this cease you from going ahead thus far. And I completely understood what she meant as a result of I’ve been round this my entire life. And I used to be born in Louisiana. So – and I used to be explaining to somebody how massive the legal justice system is like and the financial system down right here. So a lot of my friends and relations have been by way of the system. So I instantly acknowledged what she was speaking about.

They – I’m going to simply offer you an instance, Terry. They received a man that stays downstairs with me proper now. And he was locked up with me at Dixon. But once I met him, I used to be about 20 years outdated. And he had been down – he had been incarcerated for about 20 years. He ended up doing about 22 years. Now, I instantly acknowledged his face once I walked out of my residence constructing. And he was exterior, you realize, begging for cash. And, in fact, I gave him some. But I’m simply telling you this as a result of that is what Judge Harris was which means, as a result of so many individuals, like, after doing a very long time, it is like both they can not adapt or they refuse to adapt. Or that they had quite a few issues from both their incarceration or their previous that simply cease them from going ahead.

GROSS: What are you attempting to do now to maneuver your life ahead?

BRILEY: Well, I needed to restore a variety of simply relationships that – I’m going to simply say, getting my life again on observe as a traditional particular person would at my age. So stuff like training, secure, like – properly, I received, like, secure housing. But so far as attempt to, like, personal a home, I received to attempt to get on observe to a traditional 28-year-old. But first I needed to, you realize, reestablish all my primary relationships with my dad and mom, my brothers, sisters, grandparents. Everybody had grew to become strangers to me.

GROSS: Why did they turn into strangers to you?

BRILEY: I imply, as a result of they sort of wrote me off. Like, in all people head, Terry, I wasn’t getting out. I used to be by no means coming dwelling. So that is how they handled me.

GROSS: When you had been in jail, do you know lots of people there from the skin, individuals who had been buddies or kin or buddies of buddies?

BRILEY: Yeah. I had a variety of that happening. I had a variety of both kin, buddies or kin, those that watched me develop up, those that I grew up beneath. So I had a variety of familiarities in all ranges happening in jail.

GROSS: Were there friendships and rivalries that continued in jail from the skin?

BRILEY: Yes. I’m going to be trustworthy, sure, as a result of similar to I received good buddies that I executed made in jail that I nonetheless speak to and I nonetheless be with, you’ll be able to by no means get rid of your unhealthy relationships or your enemies, too, as a result of I executed noticed conditions from jail or a scenario from jail keep it up to society. And, you realize, folks find yourself killing one another.

GROSS: I do know that you just had been in gifted and proficient courses whenever you had been in highschool. What did you do to maintain your thoughts occupied throughout the years you had been in jail?

BRILEY: Oh, something. I executed learn all sort of stuff. I’m a very good chess participant, Scrabble – something. Like, authorized – like, I executed went on authorized binges. I’ll most likely assist folks write letters. That’s one other factor. Like, you realize, they’ve so many illiterate folks. And I inform Emily Bazelon on a regular basis, they received so many individuals in jail with undiagnosed psychological well being points. Some days, I would simply write all people letters. You see all people that may’t write? I would simply go sort they folks letters for them. Like, I’m a kind of sort of individuals. That’s why, like, even proper now, like, I’ve so many individuals calling me from jail, writing me from jail, speaking about me, calling me on a regular basis. Like, all people love me in jail. Don’t get me improper, I received a number of enemies. You know, I grew up in jail. So that is going to come back with that. But, man, I’m speaking about workers members. I received folks off – from, like, workers members including me on social media and stuff telling me they love me like they son and all this, you realize? (Laughter) It’s unhealthy as a result of I grew up, like, on they plantation. But, you realize, it is simply good that I established these relationships with folks.

GROSS: My visitor is Yutico Briley. The story of his wrongful conviction, imprisonment and his latest exoneration is the duvet story of this week’s New York Times Magazine. We’ll speak extra after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let’s get again to my interview with Yutico Briley. He was convicted of a 2012 armed theft in New Orleans. After serving 8 1/2 years of his 60-year sentence, he was exonerated. The story of his wrongful conviction and the way he was lastly capable of attraction is informed by journalist Emily Bazelon in an article that is the duvet story of this week’s New York Times Magazine.

So you realize lots of people in New Orleans who you had gotten into bother with earlier in your life earlier than you went to jail. What are you attempting to do to just be sure you do not get again into that life? I do know you wish to, like, transfer to Atlanta. What – are there obstacles standing in your method of doing that?

BRILEY: Well, I received to get my parole transferred. And it is a 45 to 60-day course of. I’m going to simply say that, with me going by way of what I went by way of, my entire outlook on life is method completely different than the common particular person my age. So a variety of me and my outdated buddies or me and other people I grew up round, we do not even combine anymore.

GROSS: How do you assume your perspective is completely different from theirs?

BRILEY: Well, to start with, I take life far more severely. You know, they will take dangers that I’m not going to take. Or they will really feel comfy doing stuff that I do not really feel comfy doing no extra as a result of I executed seen far more than them. Even although they executed been to jail, I used to be in jail a method completely different method than them. They may need went to jail for 2, three years and knew they was coming dwelling. Like, I actually was in jail, caught in there, would possibly die in there. So – and I do not wish to return to that scenario ever once more.

GROSS: Is it arduous to avoid them and to remain out of bother?

BRILEY: It is to a sure extent as a result of I do know they do not have unhealthy intentions. Some of my buddies, you realize, they was nonetheless, like, caring for me in jail, sending me cash and all these things. So it is simply – I received to be cool with them from a distance. Like, we received to be buddies from a distance.

GROSS: So such as you’ve been in jail for – you had been in jail for, like, 8 1/2 years. And now, not solely are you out, however you’re the topic of a canopy story in The New York Times Magazine. You attached with Emily Bazelon by way of listening to her on our present. Now you are on our present. So you’ve got gone from being, like, remoted, like folks had deserted you, no person cared. And now, like, you are changing into a public particular person. That’s an enormous transition to make. And I’m simply questioning what the response has been to the article. Is that altering your life in any respect?

BRILEY: Slowly, slowly. But, yeah, it is actual ironic. Like, every thing continues to be like a dream to the way you stated. I heard about her in your present, and now I’m in your present. So it is like, wow (laughter).

GROSS: And you are in The New York Times on the duvet of the journal. A lot of individuals see that. What sort of response are you getting?

BRILEY: So that may be a large transition from no person caring about me to all people caring about me.

GROSS: So the best way Emily began corresponding with you was that there was a librarian in Oregon who threw a help program for incarcerated folks, was corresponding with you frequently. And she informed Emily that you just had written her and also you had been attempting to get in contact along with her. So Emily discovered your letter and opened it and skim it. And that is how your relationship began. And that is what led you to be launched from jail. I perceive that you’ll be visiting that librarian later this month. What do you anticipate that go to’s going to be like?

BRILEY: Me and Ms. Karen are actually shut and I seek advice from her as, like, my adopted mother. So it may be nice as a result of we have been ready to fulfill one another without end. But we received an actual wonderful relationship. So simply by us going to spend a while, that’ll be just like the icing on the cake. And she’s an actual outdoor lady. So she’s going to carry me tenting and all this. I’m going to expertise all that for the primary time. So it may be nice.

GROSS: Yutico Briley, it has been nice to speak with you. I want you good luck. And I want you every thing that you just want for your self in your new life.

BRILEY: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Yutico Briley spoke to us from his dwelling in New Orleans. He was exonerated in March. He’s now the topic of the duvet story of this week’s New York Times Magazine. The article is by Emily Bazelon, who joined us earlier within the present.


GROSS: FRESH AIR’s govt producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and opinions are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley, Kayla Lattimore and Joel Wolfram. Our affiliate producer of digital media is Molly Seavey-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the present. I’m Terry Gross.


Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our web site terms of use and permissions pages at for additional info.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced utilizing a proprietary transcription course of developed with NPR. This textual content might not be in its ultimate type and could also be up to date or revised sooner or later. Accuracy and availability might differ. The authoritative document of NPR’s programming is the audio document.

Related Posts