Taking Back Their Lives

It was an emotional and heart-wrenching experience for Loretta and Dean when they met Dr. Phil and agreed to face each other for the first time since the trial in 1996, when Loretta testified against Dean, believing he was her rapist. When Dean was exonerated due to DNA evidence, Loretta didn't understand how he could be innocent. She met with Dr. Phil to come to terms with the truth. The following day, she faced Dean onstage and offered her apology.

Jennifer Thompson-Cannino knew exactly what Loretta experienced. She was raped at knifepoint and a man named Ronald Cotton was falsely convicted of the crime. After 11 years in prison, Ronald was exonerated by DNA. Together, Jennifer and Ronald wrote a book about their story called Picking Cotton. Now, Jennifer and Ronald travel the country talking about their story and helping others.

Jennifer invited Loretta to attend a conference where she was speaking. Loretta accepted. On her way to meet Jennifer, Loretta says, "Reading the book, I had a lot of feelings that she had, feeling ‘Why me?' and it helped me realize that I'm not the only one out there who is going through what I'm going through."

When she meets Jennifer, the two talk about their experiences. "I feel like we're always going to be victims," Loretta says.

[AD]"One day, I knew I had to move forward, and I had to make the decision that I didn't want to be a victim any longer. And that had come from in here," Jennifer tells Loretta, placing a hand on her heart. "It's going to have to become a choice you make, and it will be when you're ready. And you'll make the decision to say, ‘You know what? I don't like feeling this way anymore, and I'm going to become a survivor.' Once you make that decision, and you begin to walk that walk, you become powerful, and you become empowered, and you start taking back control."

Loretta reflects on her talk. "Listening to her say, ‘You need to be a survivor instead of being a victim,' it clicked. It was like, ‘Loretta, it's time,'" she says with a smile.

Loretta has another life-changing moment when she meets Darryl, a man at the conference who spent over 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. "I was very surprised to learn that Darryl and I have the same fears. I was telling him how I was afraid to have somebody approach me from behind, or how I would lean up against the wall, and he was saying that he has those same fears. After talking with Darryl, I realized that he's a victim also. I was able to realize we're just alike," she says.

"Deciding to go on the Dr. Phil show has been a wonderful experience for me," Loretta says. "It has opened so many doors. Being able to come out and meet so many wonderful, wonderful people and to just be able to live and to understand that you're not always a victim. You can survive."

In the studio, Loretta tells Dr. Phil, "I feel a burden was lifted off me. I feel at ease with myself, and yeah, I feel so much better."

"I think the bottom line here is you were raped, you were brutalized. No one can ever make that reality go away, and the person who has done that is still out there. And that has to be a goal, for all of us, to find that person," Dr. Phil tells her. "We all want that person off the street. Nobody knows where he is, if he's still alive, if he's dead, somebody's killed him, or he's still out there victimizing other people. We don't really know that, but yet you've found the strength to put one foot in front of the other and start moving forward."

[AD]Loretta says she's been able to finally stand in Dean's shoes and see his point of view. "I try to think about what it was like for him, and I feel really bad for what he did have to go through because of it. I just hope that he can move forward, and hopefully, we can give each other strength to move forward," she says.

Loretta and Dean reunite once again " this time with smiles. Also joining them onstage is Dean's fiancée, Jewel, who never gave up believing one day they'd be together again.

"Jewel, how's he doing?" Dr. Phil asks.

"Dean's doing better. We're blessed," she says. "He's a little more open. It seems like a burden had been lifted off. He's not as tossy and turney as he was at nighttime, and he's resting a little bit more peacefully, so I think it helped him."

[AD]Dr. Phil asks if Dean still looks out the window, nervous that someone is going to come for him, since that was an initial fear when he got out.

"I still catch myself, at times, doing that," he says. "I still wake up early, I still go to sleep early, and I catch myself still doing some of the stuff I was doing in there. I still write a lot. It's still kind of scary, but I'm trying. I pray every day, hoping, you know, [for] the strength to keep going on."

Lorreta has a message for Dean.

Laura Caldwell is a law professor from Loyola University. She started The Life After Innocence Project in January 2009 with her law students, to assist the exonerated with getting back on their feet. Dean was one of their first cases.

She explains, "What we had learned is that it's incredibly difficult, as you've just mentioned, to start over, in large part because they fall between the cracks. If Dean had been a convicted rapist when he got out of prison, when he was paroled, he would have a parole officer who would ostensibly check in with him to see how he was doing. He would have a halfway house. He would have access to free medical care services, job reintegration. And you know what Dean got? He got a sweat suit and a pat on the back."

"And so you're just turned back out on the streets," Dr. Phil says.

"Correct," Dean replies.

"The really huge problem here is Dean got out, he got a full pardon from the governor, and yet, he would go to apply for jobs, and they would say, ‘Oh, you're a sex offender. I'm sorry,'" Laura explains. "His pardon, by the way, says ‘Pardon with expungement,' but it doesn't automatically happen. That's another thing my law students are doing: going from courthouse, to courthouse, and to the Illinois Sheriff's and all these places to try to make sure we get this off of Dean's record."

[AD]Loretta has turned her energy and focus into working on Loretta's Law. She explains, "Just like men who commit crimes and go to jail and then get out and have no jobs to support or help them, I would also like to start a law for victims, where they have the support that they need." She explains that other than a phone call to tell her the man she believed to be her rapist was released from prison, she never received any support. "I want to make a change for victims as well," she says.