James Lee Woodard was freed in Texas on April 29, 2008 after DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project of Texas proved his innocence of a 1980 rape in Dallas. He was officially exonerated on September 30, 2009, when he received a pardon from Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
On December 31, 1980, the body of Beverly Ann Jones was discovered near the Trinity River in Dallas County, Texas. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.
On New Year’s Day, 26-year-old James Lee Woodard, Jones’s boyfriend, was arrested and charged with the murder and sexual assault.
He went on trial on May 18, 1981. A neighbor testified that she saw Woodard arguing with the victim the night of the murder. She identified him although it was 3:30 a.m. and she was several hundred feet away.
Woodard presented alibi witnesses who testified he had not been with Jones on the night of the crime. He was found guilty on May 22, 1981 and was sentenced to life in prison.
After he lost his appeals and his letters asking District Attorney Henry Wade to re-investigate the case were ignored, Woodard began filing applications for writs of habeas corpus. Six separate writs were denied or dismissed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, usually on the ground that he was abusing the system by filing too many applications.
When a law was passed making DNA testing available, Woodard began seeking testing. His first request languished for three years before the state responded in 2004 by saying there was no evidence to test. His appeals were denied.
After Craig Watkins was elected District Attorney of Dallas County in November 2006, he formed a Conviction Integrity Unit to investigate claims of innocence.
Woodard wrote to the Innocence Project of Texas at Texas Wesleyan School of Law. Students at that project, in cooperation with the Dallas DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit, tracked down the missing biological evidence in the case at the Southwest Institute of Forensic Sciences—where the state had sent it.
The evidence was tested and on December 18, 2007, Woodard was excluded.
A further investigation showed that prosecutors had evidence that Jones was with three men on the night, including two later convicted of unrelated sexual assaults. The evidence was withheld from Woodard’s defense lawyers.
On April 21, 2008, a forensic pathologist submitted a sworn affidavit concluding that the rapist and the murderer were the same person and not Woodard.
On April 30, 2008, Woodard was released and the charges were dismissed. On September 30, 2009, Woodard was pardoned by Gov. Rick Perry.
– Maurice Possley
UPDATE: James Woodard, who suffered from seizures, passed away in October 2012. He was 60 years old.