PBS exposes grim truth of overturned convictions

"Exoneration" is a powerful word. Over the past 10 years, hundreds of prisoners have been freed after DNA evidence cleared them of charges of rape, robbery and even murder. Some have even walked away from death row, but not before spending years and even decades behind bars for crimes they did not commit. The "Frontline" documentary "Burden of Innocence" on (8 p.m., PBS) examines life after release for a number of these celebrated cases. And what it reveals is disturbing.

Clyde Charles was only 27 when he was convicted of rape and sent to prison. When he walked out 18 years later, he was greeted by loving family members, TV news crews and triumphant attorneys.

Lawyer and DNA expert Barry Scheck, famous for being part of O.J. Simpson's "dream team," helped found The Innocence Project, a group dedicated to freeing the wrongly convicted. "It was such a joyous moment when Clyde was released from prison," Scheck recalls. "Everybody was all out there, 'We're gonna help Clyde.' And when the cameras went away, everybody went away."

"Frontline" caught up with Clyde Charles three years after his 1999 release, and found him bitter, broke, jobless and living in his car. Robbed of his youth, his freedom and his dignity, Clyde and hundreds of former prisoners like him are having difficulty adjusting to life on the outside. And few have access to counseling or monetary compensation.

"If you're a victim of war ... of disaster, there are all kinds of organizations that will help you," says psychologist Dr. John Wilson. "But if you're a victim of our system of justice and you lose your freedom and you're traumatized ... we don't have any mechanism to help you get back into a normal life."

  • Viewers in search of more clear-cut tales of criminal justice might prefer "Caught Red-Handed: The 15 Greatest 'Cops' Takedowns" (7 p.m., Fox). The groundbreaking reality series celebrates its 15 years on the air with this two-hour showcase of brazen crooks, sting operations and other apprehensions.

Tonight's other highlights

  • Eviction No. 11 on "Survivor: The Amazon" (7 p.m., CBS).
  • Twelve rich passengers and their million-dollar horse are found dead in a plane's cargo section on "CSI" (8 p.m., CBS).
  • Authorities question Malone's tactics on "Without a Trace" (9 p.m., CBS).
  • Carter tries to prevent gang violence on "ER" (9 p.m., NBC).
  • Scheduled on "Primetime" (9 p.m., ABC): Elizabeth Smart; conjoined twins from Mexico; the murder of aspiring actress Lyric Benson.

Series notes

On back-to-back episodes of "Friends" (NBC), Chandler and Monica visit a fertility clinic (7 p.m.), Rachel's bratty sister ruins Thanksgiving (7:30 p.m.) ... Mitch Mullany hosts on "All American Girl" (7 p.m., ABC,) ... Two hours of improvisation on "Jamie Kennedy Experiment" (7 p.m., WB).

Late night

Bernie Mac appears on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno hosts Lisa Marie Presley and Drew Carey on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).

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