Justice After Injustice

Justice After Injustice

Thomas Haynesworth, left, who spent 27 years in prison, is surrounded by attorneys and the media as he leaves the Virginia Court of Appeals, after a hearing in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, March 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Thomas Haynesworth, left, who spent 27 years in prison, is surrounded by attorneys and the media as he leaves the Virginia Court of Appeals, after a hearing in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, March 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

(Slate) – Early in the morning on Jan. 3, 1984, Janet Burke, a 20-year-old white woman, was opening the day care center where she worked at the East End Church in Richmond, Virginia. After she locked the door behind her and walked back toward her office, a man broke the glass portion of the front door and came inside. “Sometimes,” she said, “it takes everything to fall into place the wrong way for it to work to someone’s advantage.” Normally, for safety reasons, two people opened the center together. But that morning, Burke’s co-worker had her own child care emergency, and Burke was alone.

Burke never heard the glass break or the footsteps in the hallway. A man grabbed her, held a knife to her throat, and pushed her down. He was black, dressed entirely in black, wearing a ski mask with the face ripped out. For a brief, futile moment, Burke held out the hope that he just wanted her money. He raped her.

Afraid she might be killed, Burke also knew the babies and toddlers in her charge would be arriving at any moment. She feared for their safety, too, and the horrific scene they might confront. Over and over again she told the rapist, “The children are coming,” as she begged him to leave. A parent buzzed the front door, and the man left out the back, but she could still see him there, standing just outside, watching her. Eventually, he disappeared. “I composed myself as best I could,” she said, and went to open the broken door.

Burke’s boyfriend’s grandparents lived across the street from the church. She was taken to their house, and the police arrived soon after. Even though Burke had not been able to see above the rapist’s hairline, she had seen his full face. She knew his race, height, and approximate build. She believed she could describe him and identify him.

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