Imagine the tears of anger, sadness, disappointment and resentment that streamed down the faces of countless innocent victims before their imminent date with death. Some may have held strong, solemn faces, ready with open arms for their departure. Others may have continued to hope, convincing themselves it simply wasn’t their time and by some miraculous event they would avoid dining on that last meal. Most had to face the harsh reality that there would be no miracle. No one, not a single person, was coming to save them. They were bound to their fate the moment handcuffs grazed their wrists.

Let’s face it: Our justice system is flawed. Trials begin and end with the hopes of upholding the so-called “ingeniousness” of America’s courts, but we’re OK with admitting that we slip up a few times. Hey, no one’s perfect, right? We have been brainwashed with the notion that bad guys get put behind bars and good guys get set free. For too long have we wallowed in fear of admitting that maybe, just maybe, the justice system is more flawed than we had thought, and that innocent people have died far too often for crimes they did not commit.

The tried and tested maxim “innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt” is supposed to be a lodestar for cases that teeter along the lines of a verdict. Often, however, it seems the opposite. How can an innocent person be given the death penalty? The answers are simple: pressure to find a culprit, racial bias, media frenzy, faulty testimonials, misleading evidence, justice system corruption and the coercion of confessions by intense police questioning. These practices have made our justice system more a vessel of fear rather than of respect.

Dating as far back as the Salem witch trials, implicating innocent people for crimes they did not commit in the U.S. has unfortunately been practiced far and wide. Hollywood films such as “The Green Mile” and “Conviction” have shed considerable light on these instances.

In 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas for allegedly killing his three young children via arson. Eloquently described by reporter David Grann in the famous New Yorker article “Trial by Fire,” only after his death was Willingham later presumed to be innocent after the cause of the fire was determined accidental. The latest case of a questionable guilty verdict is that of Troy Davis, who was on death row in Georgia since 1991 for the murder of a police officer. Despite a lack of DNA evidence connecting him to the crime, numerous witness testimony retractions and calls from leaders such as Reverend Al Sharpton, former President Jimmy Carter and Pope Benedict XVI to halt his death sentence, Davis was executed late Wednesday evening.

In so many “wrongfully convicted” cases, suspects have to prove their innocence to the court rather than the state proving their guilt. The duty of the justice system is to serve the people, not to perpetrate crimes against democracy and the very nature of what America stands for. This is not the country nor the system our ancestors died for.

What does this teach our children? What does this teach the rest of the world? What right do we have spitting out orders to other parts of the globe when our own government can’t even determine the difference between the guilty and innocent?

It is the mission of non-profit organizations like The Innocence Project to exonerate wrongfully convicted victims placed in prison with the help of DNA evidence and updated forensic testing. We can only hope that in the future, the lives of the innocent will be saved and the justice system will be reformed. Even with these changes, nothing can bring back the lives of those already lost due to misjudgment or carelessness.

For now, my heart goes out to all those poor souls who quietly walked into that white cellar room, whispering their goodbyes and ready to make their peace knowing they had a clear conscience. The image is haunting.