James Waller Pardoned In Texas
Help Send an Exoneree to the Innocence Network Conference
Dateline NBC Profiles Clarence and Melinda Elkins
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A 24-year fight for justice came to an end last week when Texas Governor Rick Perry pardoned James Waller, a Dallas man who was wrongly convicted of sexual assault. In 1982, Waller was misidentified by a boy who had been sexually assaulted. Waller was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. After he was paroled in 1993, he continued to fight his conviction in court; he requested and was granted DNA testing in 2001, but the results were inconclusive. In 2004, the Innocence Project took on Waller’s case and requested advanced testing on degraded samples – and the results proved that Waller could not have committed the crime. His conviction was vacated in December 2006, and he was pardoned on Friday. In his pardon, the governor said DNA had proven Waller innocent "beyond a shadow of a doubt."
Waller is the 12th person to be proven innocent by DNA testing in Dallas County in just over five years. A hearing is expected to be scheduled soon for James Giles, who would become the 13th Dallas man proven innocent by DNA. Craig Watkins, the county's new District Attorney, has announced that his office will work with the Innocence Project of Texas to review more than 350 Dallas convictions for possible DNA testing.
Bills calling for statewide criminal justice reforms are also being considered by the state legislature. Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis, who also chairs the Innocence Project Board of Directors, has introduced bills to create a statewide Innocence Commission, improve eyewitness identification procedures and increase the level of compensation for people who were wrongly convicted. Read more about Waller's case.
Next week, representatives of innocence organizations from around the world will join law students, lawyers, journalists and exonerees at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for the annual Innocence Network Conference. So far, 50 exonerees are planning to attend the conference. A special track of workshops and panel discussions will focus on issues particular to exonerees, such as mental health, financial planning and public speaking.
The Innocence Project and other members of the Innocence Network are providing financial assistance to make it possible for many of these exonerees to attend the event. There are more exonerees who would like to attend but do not have the financial means. Your donation can help provide travel and lodging for more exonerees to attend the conference and connect with other exonerees while gaining valuable skills and tools. Click here to donate to the Innocence Project. (When you use this link, we’ll know that you would like your donation to be used to send exonerees to the conference).
In 2005, Melinda Elkins got the break in her husband’s case she had been looking for. Her husband, Clarence Elkins, had been convicted in 1999 of killing Melinda’s mother and attacking her niece. Melinda, working with a private investigator, learned that a possible alternate suspect was in the area at the time of the crime. And this man was now in the same cell block as Clarence.
Clarence picked up a cigarette butt that the man had smoked and mailed it to Melinda. She sent the cigarette to lawyers at the Ohio Innocence Project and they tested it for DNA. The results matched the DNA from the crime scene. Elkins was released later that year after serving more than seven years for a crime he didn’t commit. Prosecutors have said they are planning to charge the alternate suspect with this crime.
Dateline NBC aired a special on the case on Sunday, and the entire episode is available online. Click here to watch now.
On Tuesday, April 24, 2007, the Innocence Project will hold its first annual benefit at Gotham Hall in New York City. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. Honorees will include Showtime Networks and its CEO Matt Blank, Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, Exoneree Calvin Johnson, and Cravath, Swain and Moore LLP.
Your support and generosity in attending this event helps us to free the innocent. Click here to learn more and to buy a ticket online.