Not long ago, I saw a man whose face was familiar but whose name I could not recall until I started to shake his hand. Suddenly, recognition flashed in both of our eyes: He was Robert L. Green, the former president of the University of the District of Columbia, and I was one of the people who had written unkind words about him in the days leading up to his indictment on charges that he stole a television and stereo from the school.
Green and his wife Lettie were waiting for their car at a parking lot, having just come from U.S. District Court, where a jury had found him not guilty of theft, fraud and perjury charges.
I didn't know what to say. What came out was, "I'm, uh, happy for you."
Green seemed vindicated -- but not happy.
"Let me tell you something," he replied. "I've been saying all along that I was innocent. Now you see."
But that didn't seem to be enough.
For months, accusations of mismanagement and corruption had been levied against him by people in and out of UDC. Then came the charge that he stole the television and stereo.
Sure, he had won the case. But now he had to face the reality of a U.S. criminal justice system that leaves the accused with a taint -- even if they are acquitted.
How to defend against that, no one knows.
Former labor secretary Raymond J. Donovan comes to mind as one most outraged in the wake of his not guilty verdict. But all of his ranting and raving could not cleanse the taint from him.
Marine Cpl. Lindsey Scott said military justice is "great" after his acquittal on rape and attempted murder charges. But deep down, he's got to be mad.
Military justice also had made him serve nearly four years at hard labor for a crime the military now says he did not commit.
In his second court-martial, he won because the jury split, 4 to 3 for conviction.
A 5-to-2 vote would have sent him back to prison.
Under military law, Scott needed the votes of at least three of the seven jurors to be found not guilty.
In time, a movie will be made about his case.
Some say Phylicia Rashad of "The Cosby Show" will be asked to play the part of the civil rights activist who fought so hard on his behalf.
Until then, Scott's reputation will remain seriously damaged.
There is also a heck of a movie in the case of former boxing champion Rubin (Hurricane) Carter, who was cleared last week by the New Jersey Supreme Court, which decided not to try him a third time on murder charges.
Thus ended Carter's 22-year court battle, during which he had spent 19 years in prison.
But after all that time, Carter never got a fair trial. He was set free under a cloud of suspicion -- because key witnesses were "unavailable."
In the end, this is just an epic travesty of justice.
More unfortunate is that these are not aberrations in U.S. criminal courts.
Indeed, defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey once said he felt obligated to warn clients that the criminal court system is a crap shoot, in which the odds of winning depend on cash reserves and contacts -- not whether you committed the crime.
Thus, the taint darkens.
"You better know that if you get acquitted because the evidence against you is thin, and you happen to be innocent, a majority of the public will always say that you were guilty but that I got you off," Bailey said.
To that harsh reality, Bailey added an even harsher one: "I want you to face the possibility that you may have to go to prison and do time for a crime you never committed."
The system was "screwed up" back in 1971 when Bailey wrote his book "The Defense Never Rests." Not much has changed.
For Robert Green, there had been comfort in having Coretta Scott King and Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.) testify as character witnesses at his trial. But in the aftermath of his acquittal, he can't rest.
"I just wanted you to know that I thought you treated me unfairly," he told me. Then he got into his car and continued his defense.
"Innocent -- on all counts," he told those in the parking lot as he drove away.