Movies would have us believe that the good guys are always rewarded while the bad guys get their just desserts, but that isn’t often the case in real life. Morality comes in many shades of gray in the justice system, and this hard truth can turn even the strongest optimists into cynics.
Nevertheless, there are still a few individuals in the courtroom willing to take a stand for what is good. One Kentucky woman devoted her entire career to do right by her community, but one of her controversial choices grabbed the entire world’s attention.
From an early age, Amber Wolf had a strong sense of justice. She wasn’t afraid to let her opinion be known, even when she had something unpopular to say. In 2014, Amber went out on the biggest limb of her life.
Amber threw her hat in the ring for an open judge seat in Louisville, Kentucky. As an attorney and former public defender, she had a firsthand view into the unfairness of the legal system. But she pledged to change all that.
Facebook / Judge Amber Wolf
In spite of her relatively young age, Amber won a decisive victory. Making good on her campaign promise, the new judge spoke her mind and upheld the law. Within a couple of years, she made a statement that got the entire country’s attention.
It seemed like a straightforward case. The defendant previously got caught shoplifting, and as a first-time criminal offender, she had to enter a diversionary program. But after missing multiple days of her rehabilitation, she was in hot water.
The woman then earned herself a court date with Judge Wolf. Amber was already skeptical about the fact that she’d been locked up for days for simply missing a meeting. But as the defendant entered the courtroom, something was very wrong.
Although she approached the bench and prepared the fight for her freedom, the shoplifter wasn’t wearing any pants! Upon closer inspection, she was wearing short shorts under a t-shirt. But that still wasn’t courtroom-appropriate attire.
For a moment, Amber could barely react. She worked so hard and took her job so seriously, and this kind of charade was happening in her courtroom? The pantsless defendant was so outrageous, the judge wondered if this were some kind of prank.
“Am I in the Twilight Zone?” she asked out loud. Once she got over the shock, Judge Wolf demanded an explanation. As it turned out, the skimpy attire wasn’t the defendant’s idea at all.
When authorities booked the woman, she could not make bail prior to her trial. That resulted in her being thrown in a cell for days. If that wasn’t harsh enough, the prison wouldn’t even give her any clothing other than what she was seized in.
Steve Durham, the Assistant Director of Louisville Metro Corrections, later swore that his people did everything according to protocol. They were just trying to be efficient, to save resources. But Judge Wolf believed they went too far.
The woman also shared that the prison denied her any feminine hygiene products. Altogether, the experience proved degrading and humiliating. While the defendant did commit a crime, Amber felt she owed her an apology.
The Judge let her off with a $100 fine, as she’d suffered enough already. Reporters then leaked the video of her passionate reaction and apology, which went viral the next day. It could’ve been a fluke — except that it happened again a short time later.
This case involved a ne’er-do-well by the name of James Roeper. A man with an extensive criminal history, the police brought him in on a burglary charge. Despite the open-and-shut case, there was something strange about him.
James appeared to be in a good mood. He told officers that his wife Ashley was pregnant and due in just a few weeks. The burglar was excited to become a father, though there was one hang-up.
Ashley was also implicated in the theft, so authorities separated the couple and refused any contact. She soon gave birth while both of them were in custody, so James never got to meet his child.
However, both Ashley and the baby made an appearance at James’ court date. In between answering various questions, the accused thief kept glancing back at his firstborn. Judge Wolf picked up on it and made a surprising announcement.
Amber paused the proceedings and allowed James a moment to hold his baby for the first time. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, as James and Ashley especially never expected such an act of kindness. Once again, cameras captured the entire thing.
The video made its rounds, and viewers around the world applauded Amber for her compassion. They also remarked that she seemed tailor-made for her own TV show. However, she insists she has no interest in becoming the next Judge Judy.
Judge Wolf said her only goal is to do right by her community. “I haven’t done anything to pursue or propel any political points,” she explained. “I just saw an opportunity to do the right thing.” Sadly, there aren’t enough people like her out there.
The Marshall Project
The justice system isn’t always that just. John Bunn could barely hold back tears during his 2014 trial. He hoped for good news, though no judge could give back all the time he’d already spent behind bars, suffering for a crime he hadn’t committed.
New York Post
Despite the complicated situation he found himself in, John had one man to thank for all his misery: Louis Scarcella. This former NYPD detective showed up out of the blue and destroyed John’s childhood.
New York Post
It all started in the summer of 1991. John lived with his mother and siblings in the Brooklyn projects. It was a tough neighborhood, but he was elated that summer finally rolled around. But just minutes before he headed out to meet some friends, he heard a loud knock on the door.
A group of police officers waited outside the Bunn’s apartment. They’d been looking for John apparently, as they needed to ask the 14-year-old boy a few questions — downtown. He nervously climbed into the cruiser, not knowing what he did wrong.
The Billings Gazette
The authorities dumped John into an interrogation room. He could barely breathe. Scarcella waltzed in and announced that a neighborhood boy named Rosean Hargrave implicated him in a police investigation. John protested that he barely knew Rosean.
Scarcella and his goons wouldn’t listen to a single word. Instead, the detective asked John what he knew about Rolando Neischer. The day before, a group of young men robbed Neischer, an off-duty officer, and shot him to death.
The Miami Times
From there, the officers tossed John into a police lineup. All the other suspects present were grown men. The second John left the room, Scarcella pulled out a pair of handcuffs and quipped, “It’s your lucky day.”
The New York Times
With a smile on his face, Scarcella booked Rosean and John, even though they didn’t even fit the description of the perpetrators. John’s mother also attested he was at home at the time of the shooting, but to no avail. John was convicted of second-degree murder.
Los Angeles Times
While the trial only lasted a day, John was staring at double-digit years behind bars at a maximum-security facility. Some said he was lucky he was a minor; otherwise he’d have received an even heftier sentence.
Prison was a nightmare for John. As an alleged cop killer, the teenager lived in constant fear of retaliation from guards. He also developed anger issues over the injustice. There was no clear solution in sight, but he swore to better himself.
John was never a serious student, but by using the books and magazines in the prison library, he taught himself to read. The young man also sought out counseling and started to plan for his life outside his cell.
Of course, he first needed a way to get out. He grabbed hold of one opportunity in 2006 when he rescued a prison employee during an attack by another inmate. Not long after, the parole board granted him his freedom — 16 years after his imprisonment.
However, John couldn’t just resume his life as if nothing had ever happened. Mental health issues plagued him, plus he struggled to find steady work. After he mistakenly missed a parole meeting, the authorities locked him up for another year.
John still couldn’t quite process the unfairness of it all, but fortunately, he wouldn’t be alone for long. A non-profit called the Exoneration Initiative reached out to him and explained that they defended individuals wrongly accused of crimes.
The New York Times
It turned out that Louis Scarcella, now retired, had fabricated evidence to lock up dozens of suspects over the years. The former detective had managed to evade punishment, but courts were now blowing the dust off his old cases.
New York Daily News
John, along with his co-defendant Rosean Hargrave, joined forces with the Initiative in an attempt to clear their names. They publicized their own experience without much success, but by 2014 word came in: a judge would review their conviction.
The entire Bunn family filed into the Brooklyn courtroom for what was bound to be an emotional day. Justice ShawnDya Simpson held John’s good name in her hands. After hours of deliberations, she called the convicted murderer up to the stand.
New York Post
The judge said she’d reached a decision, but spoke in a low enough voice that only John himself could hear. After standing in stunned silence for a moment, he broke down in tears.
New York Post
These, however, were tears of joy. John was completely cleared of all charges! For the first time since he was 14, John sensed that he had a real future ahead of him. He had a very clear idea of what he wanted to do as well.
New York Daily News
Books saved John when he was locked up, which is why he founded A Voice 4 The Unheard. Through this organization, he promotes reading among underprivileged youth. He’s determined to give back, as he knows there’s so many other tales of injustice out there — some even crazier than his own.
Good Black News