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Bestselling authors tell their story

October 4, 2012

Freshman Keegan Glick takes to the stage to ask New York Times bestselling authors Jennifer Thompson and Ron Cotton a question. – Photo by Sumeet Shrestha

 

KELSY KERSHAW
Staff Reporter

 

As Jennifer Thompson adjusted Ronald Cotton’s tie, getting ready to speak in Howard auditorium Tuesday night, he sat back and laughed.

 

Twenty-seven years ago, Thompson hated this man and wanted him to die; now they travel the world sharing their story together as the best of friends.

 

On July 29, 1984, Thompson, co-author of “Picking Cotton,” was sexually assaulted and raped for nearly 20 minutes. When she was brought in to identify her attacker, she described Cotton, also the co-author of “Picking Cotton.”

 

“I had to get him off the streets, for me, and for the other victim he terrorized,” she said about Cotton at the time.

 

After the trial in January of 1985, Cotton was convicted of first-degree rape, sex offense breaking-and-entering and was sentenced to life in prison. Thompson said she felt relief, but Cotton said he felt the complete opposite.

 

“I had been charged for a crime I did not commit,” he said.

 

Circumstances for Cotton took a turn in 1995 when he heard about the O.J. Simpson trial and was first introduced to DNA testing.

 

“After watching it on television, I sat down to write a request to the court for a DNA test in my case,” Cotton said.

 

In approximately 90 days he received his answer. “The warden called me into his office and looked me in the eye and told me I was innocent,” he said. “He told me I was going home.”

 

After 11 years of incarceration, when Cotton walked into that courtroom he said he felt like he was in another world.

 

“I was free at last,” he said.

 

As Cotton felt relief, Thompson said she felt shame, guilt and fear.

 

“I was afraid he would come after me,” she said. “I thought he wanted to kill me.”

 

After some time, Thompson realized she had not moved on from the incident and decided she needed to meet Cotton.

 

“I waited for him outside the church, very nervous not knowing exactly what I was going to say,” she said. “Before I knew it he was right there, all 6-foot-4 of him filling the doorway.”

 

As she stood there face-to-face with the man who she had falsely accused, she said she pleaded for his forgiveness. Cotton’s response, however, was not what Thompson expected.

 

“He looked at me with tears in his eyes and grabbed my hands,” she said. “He told me that he had forgiven me years ago.”

 

At that moment, Thompson said they embraced each other with tears in their eyes and they promised they would never hurt each other again.

 

Forgiveness is a powerful virtue and a strong theme of “Picking Cotton” said Linda Griffin, dean of student development.

 

“The fact that this man, who spent 11 years behind bars for something he didn’t do, could get out of prison and be approached by the woman who pointed her finger at him and be able to say ‘I forgive you’ and not just say it but mean it,” Griffin said. “I am so enthralled by that theme, I think that is what a lot of people are going to take home.”

 

This was true for freshman business management student, Keegan Glick, who said he now has a better understanding of forgiveness after listening to Thompson and Cotton.

 

“When I saw how she [Thompson] had forgiven him for something so big, I was extremely moved,” Glick said. “It gave me what I needed to take the next step in forgiving people in my life with situations that I have had trouble with.”

 

Thompson said the hardest part of forgiveness, for her, was forgiving herself. She said she had to learn how to let it go and not let it control another minute of her life.

 

“We wouldn’t change anything about our situation and why this happened,” she said. “It happened for a reason and we are supposed to be here.”

 

Email comments to kjk016@latech.edu.

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