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Bob Perske: Friend to the Wrongfully Convicted

July 26, 2009

Robert Perske has been an advocate, writer, pastor, and friend to people with disabilities since the early days of the community living movement.  We had the privilege of seeing Mr. Perske deliver a keynote address at the TASH 2008 conference in Nashville.  I was familiar with him mainly through his early writing, in particular his book Circles of Friends, which was illustrated by his wife, Martha (who had a display table of her artwork at the same conference).  I was not aware of the work that has occupied much of his time in recent years, namely advocating on behalf of people with developmental disabilities who have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned in the U.S.  He has written two books on this subject:  Unequal Justice – What Can Happen when Persons with Retardation and Other Developmental Disabilities Encounter the Criminal Justice System (Abingdon Press, 1991) and Deadly Innocence (Abingdon Press, 1995).

Bob (as he prefers to be called) gave example after example of individuals who had been interrogated without counsel, of police manipulating them into confessions they clearly did not understand, of key evidence being ignored by the justice system for the sake of a quick conviction.   Among the documents he shared was a list of 33 False Confessions by Persons with Mental Retardation, which he compiled over 25 years.

“I didn’t set out to defend these people,” he said, “but when I hear their stories, I can’t help but act.  Any of you would do the same.”  After watching his video presentation of frightened, confused “suspects” being woefully misguided and manipulated by the justice system, I had to agree. 

One of the people Mr. Perske has become especially close to is Richard Lapointe, who is serving a life sentence in Connecticutt for the rape and murder of an elderly woman.  He has written extensively on Richard’s case and visits him every weekend in prison.  To learn more about Richard’s case, visit Friends of Richard Lapointe.

Robert Perske gave an emotional keynote address at the TASH 2008 conference in Nashville

Robert Perske gave an emotional keynote address at the TASH 2008 conference in Nashville

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