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Morton's Attorneys Comment on Anderson's Resignation

Posted: September 25, 2013 5:15 pm





Tags: Texas, Government Misconduct, Michael Morton

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Texas Innocence Commission bill hits roadblock

Posted: May 22, 2007

A proposal that would create Texas’ first panel charged with reviewing the causes of wrongful convictions and preventing future injustice has hit a roadblock in the state House. The bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Rodney Ellis (who also chairs the Innocence Project Board of Directors), failed to pass out of a House committee last week after passing the full Senate in April.

The bill could still be resurrected by adding the language to another House bill, but the legislative session ends next week.

An editorial in today’s Dallas Morning News calls on lawmakers to address problems in the criminal justice system Texas has had more convictions overturned by DNA evidence, 28, than any other state in the U.S.

We hope Mr. Ellis finds a way to resuscitate the legislation by tacking it onto another bill. With Texas by far the most active death penalty state, our quality of justice must adhere to the most rigorous standards to be found nationwide. It's a sad chapter when lawmakers send the message that they're willing to settle for something less.

Read the full editorial here. (Dallas Morning News, 5/22/07)
Read this bill’s history on the Texas Legislature website.

 



Tags: Texas, Innocence Commissions

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Texas murder conviction overturned

Posted: June 7, 2007 9:46 am

Michael Scott was convicted in 2002 of killing four teenage girls in a notorious Austin murder 11 years earlier. He allegedly confessed to his involvement in the crime along with another man, Robert Springsteen. Yesterday, Texas’s highest court overturned Scott’s conviction because Springsteen’s confession was improperly used against Scott at trial. Springsteen’s conviction has also been thrown out and he is expected to be tried again.

Scott and Springsteen have claimed that their confessions were coerced during long hours of interrogation by the Austin Police. Part of Scott’s interrogation was videotaped, and the tape shows a detective holding a loaded gun against Scott’s head.

Ariel Payan, the lawyer handling Scott’s appeal, says he always knew this day would come. He encourages detectives to look elsewhere for the yogurt shop murderer or murderers.

“There were fingerprints found inside the cash drawer where the money was stolen,” Payan said. “You have ask yourself, if there are fingerprints there that weren't traced to anybody, doesn't that mean that there is someone else?

Read the full story here. (CBS 42, 6/6/07)
Read the court’s opinion here.

Read background on the case here.



Tags: Texas, False Confessions, Government Misconduct

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Houston lab probe leads to more questions

Posted: June 18, 2007 11:22 am

The final report of an extensive audit of the Houston crime lab uncovered dozens of incidences of forensic neglect and potential misconduct. But the report did not examine how potentially-mishandled evidence impacted convictions, according to the independent investigator in charge of the audit.

"It is important that somebody does what we did not do, which is to really look at whether it (HPD's work) really mattered in the larger context in the case," said Michael Bromwich, whose two-year, $5.3 million crime lab investigation ended last week. "To the extent that the people care about whether there were cases of injustice, some mechanism has to be devised to address those cases in a way that people feel this final but important step has been adequately addressed."

Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 06/17/07)

Read more about the investigator’s final report in our blog or download the full report here. View a list of Texas exonerees here.



Tags: Texas

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Independent labs mean fair testing

Posted: June 19, 2007 11:01 am

A two-year audit of the Houston Police Department’s crime lab came to a close last week, with the final report including troubling revelations about lab work that led to hundreds of criminal convictions. A column in the Houston Chronicle details two major causes of forensic mistakes and misconduct: underfunding and a close relationship with law enforcement. When labs are part of a police department, Ellen Marrus writes, they view themselves as a tool of the prosecution and not an independent scientific body.

As the screws are tightened on the HPD crime lab, law enforcement officials will look for ways to ensure the problems will not be repeated in the future. Our system of justice depends on clear and concise presentations of credible evidence, and we need to take the necessary steps to ensure that our crime labs can provide it.

Read the full article here. (Houston Chronicle, 06/16/07)
Read previous blog posts on the Houston lab audit, download the full report, read more about crime lab backlogs and crime lab oversight.



Tags: Texas

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Dallas DA is a new kind of civil rights activist

Posted: June 20, 2007 4:40 pm

Craig Watkins, the first African-American district attorney in Dallas County, has devoted the first months of his term to improving the county’s criminal justice system. A column in yesterday’s Star-Telegram compares Watkins with Martin Luther King, Jr.

"African-American males between 18 and 25 are more likely to be in prison, probation or parole than in college," he [Watkins] said. "That doesn't say that African-American men are bad people. I believe that there is something wrong with the system."…Looking back at the heretical ideas of Martin Luther King Jr., people now realize that he was truly a healer. Some may consider Watkins a heretic today, but he hopes that history will prove him to be a healer of an ailing criminal justice system.

Dallas County's election of a "radical" may be just the right tonic for criminal justice reform.
Read the full story. (Fort-Worth Star-Telegram, 6/20/07)
Dallas County has the most exonerations of any county in the country, with 13 known wrongful convictions in less than six years. Read more about these 13 cases here.



Tags: Texas

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James Giles Exonerated

Posted: June 21, 2007 3:00 pm

Two months ago in Dallas, the Innocence Project joined with prosecutors in filing motions to clear James Giles of a 1982 rape for which he served 10 years in prison and 14 years as a registered sex offender on parole. The judge approved the motions, but there was one final step on Giles’ journey to exoneration. Texas rules require that the state’s highest criminal court review all exoneration before they become official. Yesterday, Giles was officially exonerated when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted his writ of habeas corpus. He became the 204th person exonerated by DNA testing in the United States and the 13th in Dallas County.

The Innocence Project began investigating Giles’ case in 2000, and DNA testing has since proven that he was not one of three men who raped a Dallas woman in her home in 1982. The crime was committed by three men, and police were told that one was named James Giles. The victim identified James Curtis Giles in a lineup, even though he did not match her initial description of the perpetrator. DNA evidence now links two other men to the crime – and shows that they were both closely associated with another man, James Earl Giles, who lived near the crime scene and fits the victim’s initial description. New evidence shows that information linking the three true perpetrators to the crime – James Earl Giles and the two other men – was available to police and prosecutors before James Curtis Giles was convicted, but was illegally withheld from his defense attorneys.

With 13, Dallas has had more convictions overturned by DNA testing than any other county nationwide. Read more about the other 12 cases here.

The Dallas District Attorney’s Office recently began working with the Innocence Project of Texas to review more than 350 cases in which defendants claim innocence and were denied DNA testing. Officials have said that this review could lead to more Dallas exonerations. Read more about the ongoing review here.



Tags: Texas, James Giles

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Giles finally exonerated

Posted: June 22, 2007 12:30 pm

Yesterday, James Giles of Texas became the nation’s 204th person cleared by DNA testing when the state’s highest criminal court made his exoneration official.

Read media coverage of the exoneration below, or click here for more information on Giles and the other 12 people exonerated in Dallas County in the last six years.

Houston Chronicle: Court clears man convicted in gang rape. (6/22/07)






Tags: Texas, James Giles

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Innocence Project seeks DNA testing in case of man executed in Texas

Posted: September 7, 2007 2:24 pm

DNA testing can prove whether Claude Jones was wrongfully executed in Texas in 2000, and the Innocence Project joined several organizations in filing motions today seeking to prevent officials from destroying the only physical evidence in the case – a hair from the crime scene -- and seeking a court order to conduct DNA testing.

Testing on the hair could prove whether Jones was innocent or guilty of a 1989 murder in San Jacinto County, Texas, but officials have said they will not approve of DNA testing on the hair unless a court orders them to do so. The Texas Observer, the Innocence Project of Texas and the Texas Innocence Network joined the Innocence Project in filing the motions today.

“The San Jacinto District Attorney, who was one of the prosecutors during Claude Jones’ trial, told us this week that he will not agree to DNA testing without a court order. We are asking for an emergency order from the court that will mandate testing and prevent officials from destroying this evidence in the meantime,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project. “The public has a right to know whether Claude Jones actually committed the crime for which he was executed, and whether a serious breakdown in the state’s legal and political process led to a wrongful execution. Public confidence in the criminal justice system is at stake.”

Read the full Innocence Project press release here
.

Read the story from today’s Texas Observer.



Tags: Texas, Death Penalty, Claude Jones

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Video: Dallas DA says his job is to seek justice, not just convictions

Posted: October 30, 2007 11:45 am

At a speech in New York City yesterday, Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins said “it’s easy to get on television and tell someone you’re going to be tough, but a hard concept is telling your constituents you’re going to be smart on crime.”

Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck joined Watkins at the panel discussion, hosted by the Drum Major Institute, calling Watkins’ work in Dallas “historic.”

Watkins, elected in 2006, is the first African-American District Attorney in Dallas history. He created a Conviction Integrity Unit to review possible past wrongful convictions. Dallas has had more wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing than any other county nationwide.

Watch a video of Watkins at yesterday’s event.

Read more about yesterday’s event on the Drum Major Institute blog.

View photos from yesterday’s event on Flickr.




Tags: Texas

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Houston Chronicle editorial says Texas has made important progress in compensating the wrongfully convicted, but says services are critical

Posted: December 13, 2007 5:25 pm

An editorial in today’s Houston Chronicle questions the lack of state services for the 29 people who have been wrongfully convicted in Texas and proven innocent through DNA testing. Although Texas provides a more generous compensation statute than many other states—thanks to the recent passage of a bill sponsored by Senator Rodney Ellis, raising the standard to $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration—it still fails to provide for the career, educational, psychological and health care needs of exonerees after their release. Innocence Project client Ronald Taylor, the latest Texan to be proven innocent, is eligible for the state funds but not until he receives a full pardon from the governor, and even then he may wait years before the funds are dispensed. In the absence of state support, the Innocence Project seeks to meet the immediate needs of the wrongfully convicted.

The Innocence Project also has a special exoneree fund that provides counseling when other sources are absent. As Chronicle writer Roma Khanna's recent story showed, even exonerees like Taylor — who was buoyed during years in prison by his fiancée — face dizzying emotional challenges. How to rebuild a relationship interrupted by years of separation? How to overcome grief and rage for all the wasted time? How to stave off depression, anxiety and paranoia, all aggravated by a life in prison?

Simply having been in prison, even wrongly, creates a stigma that can make job-hunting daunting. Add to this the reality that many exonerees went into their sentences with limited education or skills, and the prospects for finding work unaided can be bleak.
 
Read the full editorial here. (Houston Chronicle, 12/12/07)
Twenty-eight states offer no compensation, and only six state compensation laws include provisions for additional services, including education, counseling and job training. To find out more about compensation laws click here.

Click here to donate to the Innocence Project’s exoneree fund.



Tags: Texas

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Texan of the Year? Dallas Morning News nominates DA Watkins

Posted: December 26, 2007 9:05 am

As Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins closes his first year in office, he can look back and say that he’s certainly made an impression. In January, Watkins became the county’s first African-American DA, and he came into office pledging to be “smart on crime” rather than “tough on crime.” He created a new Conviction Integrity Unit to uncover potential wrongful convictions (with 14, Dallas has had more convictions overturned by DNA evidence than any other country in the nation). This week, the Dallas Morning News nominated him as a ‘Texan of the Year.’

As a campaign strategy, it seemed like a tough sell. Pledging to be "smart on crime" in a high-crime atmosphere was a risky move.

Still, Craig Watkins convinced voters that the tough tactics they'd come to expect from the district attorney's office weren't working.

…Already other district attorneys in Texas and beyond are taking notice of Mr. Watkins' initiatives. And now, "smart on crime" doesn't seem like such a tough sell after all.

Read the full story here.




Tags: Texas

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A year of being "smart on crime" in Dallas

Posted: January 8, 2008 4:19 pm

Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins rode into office a year ago on the message that he would be “smart on crime,” and he has gained a reputation for his willingness to reexamine old convictions for the possibility of injustice. An op-ed by Watkins in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News calls his decision to review questionable convictions “a no-brainer” and goes on to review other successes of 2007 – including community service initiatives and a unit to prosecute financial abuse against the elderly.

A year ago, we partnered with the Innocence Project of Texas to review more than 400 old cases, many with requests for DNA testing that had been opposed under the prior administration. To me, this move was a no-brainer, considering Dallas County has the highest number of wrongfully convicted people in the nation – but it has been touted as bold and progressive, and it has garnered media attention internationally.

Also, to ensure that these kinds of unforgivable mistakes are never made again, at least on my watch, we established a conviction integrity unit. In its first five months, it has already identified eight more cases eligible for post-conviction DNA testing, as well as two more people wrongfully convicted of sexual assault.

Read the full op-ed article here. (Dallas Morning News, 01/07/08)
Last week, Charles Chatman became the 15th person to be cleared by post-conviction DNA testing in Dallas County. Read more about his case here.





Tags: Texas

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Real perpetrator identified in Dallas case

Posted: January 31, 2008 2:19 pm

Entre Nax Karage was exonerated through DNA testing in 2005 after serving more than six years in a Texas prison for a murder he didn’t commit. It was previously believed that the real perpetrator in the crime had died, but prosecutors said Wednesday that was a mistake. Another man has been charged in the crime after DNA from the crime scene matched his profile. Karage, now 38, was convicted in 1997 of killing his then-girlfriend in 1994 and sentenced to life in prison.

Keith Jordan, who is now charged in the case, is currently in a Texas prison after his convictions in 1997 for aggravated sexual assault of a child and aggravated kidnapping.

Read the full story here. (Dallas Morning News, 01/31/2008)

Karage is one of 16 men in Dallas County to be cleared of wrongful convictions by DNA evidence. Yesterday, prosecutors announced that the DNA testing that recently proved the innocence of Steven Phillips has identified the real perpetrator in the case, a man who died ten years ago. Phillips was released on parole in December after he was wrongfully convicted in 1984 of a series of rapes he didn’t commit. Read more about his case here.




Tags: Texas, Entre Nax Karage

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DNA testing suspended as more problems emerge at Houston crime lab

Posted: February 1, 2008 5:05 pm

The Houston Police Department again closed its DNA testing section last week after the lab’s chief resigned due to problems with the accreditation of lab analysts. Vanessa G. Nelson, the former chief of the Houston Police DNA lab, submitted her resignation earlier this month after it was revealed that she had improperly coached analysts on open-book proficiency tests. This is the second time in recent memory the lab has closed due to scandal. The Houston Police Department was closed from 2002 to 2006 after major flaws in testing procedures were revealed. An independent audit completed last year found that hundreds of convictions had been based on testing that was incomplete or may have been flawed.

And a Houston Chronicle article this week revealed that Nelson, the departed lab chief, had been hired subsequently by the state to oversee DNA testing in a Texas Department of Public Safety lab. 

State Rep. Kevin Bailey, who sat on a committee that investigated problems in the DPS labs in 2003, said he was troubled that the agency would hire Nelson before the HPD cheating investigation was complete.

"It is shocking, to say the least, that they would hire someone who was giving out test answers," the Houston Democrat said. "The integrity of these DNA labs is so critical. Their work has life-and-death consequences."

Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 01/29/08) DNA testing has overturned three wrongful convictions caused, at least in part, by faulty testing at the Houston Police Department Crime Lab. Innocence Project client Ronnie Taylor was released late last year after DNA tests proved that he didn’t commit the rape for which he had served 12 years in prison. His conviction was based partly on faulty tests conducted at the Houston lab. Read more about last week’s lab closure here.

Download the full report of the external lab audit completed last year.



Tags: Texas, George Rodriguez, Josiah Sutton, Ronald Taylor

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Dallas man picks up the pieces of a lost life

Posted: February 8, 2008 9:31 am

Charles Chatman spent 27 years in Texas prison before DNA proved that he did not commit 1981 rape for which he was convicted and sentenced to 99 years in prison. He was released on January 3 and will be officially exonerated when Texas’ highest criminal court grants his writ of habeas corpus. An in-depth story in yesterday’s Dallas Observer touches base with Chatman as he works to rebuild a life stolen by wrongful conviction.

Walking out of prison in January, after decades of being told what to do and when to do it, Chatman, at 47, finds himself facing a new challenge. Imagine being frozen in time, while outside everything changed—cars, clothes, culture. But he stayed the same, trapped in a 1981 version of himself while anger and resentment ate away at him. He kept a form letter describing his plight, sending it to lawyers and judges, reporters and politicians and talk show hosts. But for the most part, no one believed him. Until one day, they did.

And suddenly, like an astronaut returning to earth, he re-enters this changed world, which seems to be spinning faster. There is so much to learn—cell phones, ATM machines and computers, new highways, new buildings and new family members. There is a local network of social service agencies—nonprofits and faith-based institutions—that can help ease Chatman's transition back into the community. And the state of Texas has a compensation system that can provide Chatman with $50,000 for each year he was imprisoned. But what amount of money can fairly compensate him for the years he has lost and the damage he has endured by living behind bars for 27 years as an innocent man?

Read the full story here. (Dallas Observer, 02/07/08)
Last year, Texas lawmakers doubled the amount of compensation people can receive after they are exonerated.  The state now meets the national standard of $50,000 per year served (and $100,000 per year on death row). Does your state have a compensation law? View our interactive reform map.




Tags: Texas

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Dallas column: Provide services for the exonerated

Posted: March 3, 2008 1:25 pm

A column in today’s Dallas Morning News by Rev. Gerald Britt, Jr. chronicles the case of Charles Allen Chatman, who was released from a Texas prison in January after serving 27 years for a rape he didn’t commit. Chatman’s “remarkable journey from incarceration to exoneration is an episode in a much larger story of the burden under which poor communities struggle – and how injustice further complicates that struggle,” Britt writes.

Texas has seen more wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing that any other state. It is also one of 22 states providing some compensation to exonerees. Thanks to an amendment passed last year, the state is among national leaders – providing counseling services, child support payments, and $50,000 per year served ($100,000 if the exonerated person was on death row). Britt writes that all states should fairly compensate the exonerated, and provide services to help them rebuild a stolen life.

Society rightly demands that those who commit crimes owe a debt that must be paid. But where that right has been unjustly or mistakenly demanded, society has an obligation to make immediate and comprehensive restitution. We impose a terrible burden on the falsely imprisoned. And we compound a problem that we already struggle to address: the restoration of the lives of residents to productivity in a time when we don’t have lives to waste.

Read the full column here. (Dallas Morning News, 03/03/08)
Does your state have a compensation law? Check our interactive map to find out.





Tags: Texas, Exoneree Compensation

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Texas man marks one year of freedom

Posted: March 10, 2008 3:42 pm

One year ago yesterday, James Waller was officially exonerated in Texas. He served 10 years in prison – and another 13 years as a registered sex offender – before DNA proved his innocence of a rape. Waller was wrongfully convicted partly based on the child victim’s misidentification of him.

Waller is one of 14 men exonerated by DNA testing in Dallas County, more than any other county in the nation. Read more about the other Dallas exonerations here.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

Sunday: Cody Davis, Florida (Served 5 Months, Exonerated 03/09/07)

Tuesday: Michael Anthony Williams, Louisiana (Served 23.5 Years, Exonerated 03/11/05)

Saturday: Kenneth Waters, Massachusetts (Served 17.5 Years, Exonerated 03/15/2001)

John Willis, Illinois (Served 7 Years, Exonerated 03/02/99)



Tags: Texas, James Waller

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Texas Summit on Wrongful Convictions starts an important conversation

Posted: May 9, 2008 3:47 pm

More than 100 key leaders from Texas’ criminal justice system came together yesterday in Austin to discuss the causes of wrongful convictions and changes necessary to free the innocent, improve forensic testing and prevent future injustice. Texas leads the nation in wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing – with 31 people exonerated from 10 counties across the state. The first Summit on Wrongful Convictions in the nation, yesterday’s meeting was called by Texas State Sen. Rodney Ellis to advance the state’s dialogue on wrongful convictions. Nine people freed by DNA testing in Texas attended the event, each standing up to tell their stories.

One by one, nine wrongly convicted men stood up on the floor of the Texas Senate on Thursday to explain how innocent men ended up in prison and how to prevent it from happening again.

"I'm here to tell you I lost everything. I am still hurting. I am still broken," said James Giles, who spent 10 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. "We can do better in the justice system. The system failed all of us."

…The applause was loudest when Giles tore up his sex offender registration card, something he had to carry for 15 years while he was on parole before getting exonerated. He ripped it up, he said, because he had a new card to carry: a voter registration card.

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 05/08/08)
Watch a new Innocence Project video featuring interviews with three Texas exonerees: Brandon Moon, Chris Ochoa and Ronnie Taylor.





Tags: Texas, James Giles, Christopher Ochoa, James Waller, Innocence Commissions

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Dallas Morning News editorial calls on lawmakers to support innocence commission in Texas

Posted: May 12, 2008 2:00 pm

The editorial board of the Dallas Morning News yesterday called on lawmakers to support Houston Sen. Rodney Ellis’ proposal to form a state innocence commission in Texas. The influential paper’s editorial comes just four days after the historic Texas Summit on Wrongful Convictions, which brought together lawmakers and criminal justice leaders to examine why so many innocent people are ending up in Texas prisons.

Texas has had more DNA exonerations than any other state with 31 in ten counties. In Dallas alone the 18th person, James Lee Woodard, was freed two weeks ago after serving 27 years for a murder he did not commit.

“No county has borne more shame than Dallas County for the outrage of miscarriage of justice,” the Dallas Morning News wrote. “No county has a greater responsibility to change Texas law to prevent tragic mistakes in the future.”

An innocence commission would examine what went wrong in each of these cases and make recommendations on how the system could be fixed to prevent more wrongful convictions. Among the problems a commission could address in Texas are eyewitness misidentification, harsh interrogation tactics that result in false confessions, unethical prosecutorial practices, and proper DNA testing. The Morning News said such a commission was “needed badly in Texas.”

The concept is a sound one and has been adopted by at least five states.
News flashes about Dallas cases obscure the fact that local exonerations would not be achieved were it not for the sound practice of storing biological evidence in all criminal cases. No other Texas county has done that; one can only imagine how many wrongly convicted people from the 253 other Texas counties have no shot at DNA exoneration. A special commission could recommend best practices for evidence storage, among a long list of other law enforcement procedures.

The editorial called for “robust support” for Sen. Ellis’ bill and recommended that a Dallas Republican should sponsor it in the House where a similar bill last year was killed before making it to the floor.

Read the editorial. (The Dallas Morning News, 5/11/08)




Tags: Texas, Innocence Commissions

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James Woodard adjusts to life on the outside

Posted: May 16, 2008 5:40 pm

Two weeks ago, James Woodard walked out of a Dallas County courtroom a free man for the first time in 27 years. He was arrested days after New Year’s Day in 1981, and was convicted of a rape he didn’t commit based on an eyewitness misidentification. Now Woodard, who was represented by his attorneys at the Innocence Project of Texas, is working to reclaim his life.

"It's sort of like waking up from a dream," Woodard said, walking through the corridors of Dallas City Hall, trying to track down his birth certificate. "When you first wake up you are first kind of groggy and then as time passes you get more coherent."

Watch video with Woodard and read some of his letters to former Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade in an online feature new today on CNN.
Woodard is the 18th person cleared by DNA evidence in Dallas County to date – more than any other county in the nation. Fourteen of them have been officially exonerated – read their stories here.





Tags: Texas

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New panels study wrongful convictions in Texas and New York

Posted: June 4, 2008 3:20 pm

Texas’ highest criminal court today announced the creation of a new Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit to address concerns of injustice in the court system and work with inmates who say they’ve been wrongfully convicted. The group’s initial invited members include Court of Criminal Appeals judge Barbara Hervey, Texas State Sen. Rodney Ellis (also the Innocence Project Board Chairman), members of Gov. Rick Perry’s staff, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges.

"This is a call to action to address the growing concerns with our criminal justice system," Hervey said.David Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston and director of the Texas Innocence Network, said the integrity unit could have a huge impact. Unreliable eyewitness evidence is the top contributor to wrongful convictions, he said, Better preservation of evidence could help wrongfully convicted inmates use emerging technologies to win their case.

"I think this is fabulous," Dow said. "I think the court's recognition of the problem by itself is noteworthy."

Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 06/04/08)
A Summit on Wrongful Convictions in Austin last month added momentum to the push for a state innocence commission to study wrongful convictions. Read more about the summit here.

Meanwhile, the New York State Bar Association has also established a 22-member task force to study wrongful convictions. Members of this group will also come from across the legal spectrum – both inside and outside the state’s criminal justice system.

Read more here. (Newsday, 06/04/08)

Download the Innocence Project’s report on stalled reforms in New York.





Tags: Texas, New York, Innocence Commissions

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Editorials and Blogs: Texas court is right to study the system

Posted: June 10, 2008 2:55 pm

Two major editorials in recent days have praised the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for launching a Criminal Justice Integrity Unit. The announcement of the new group comes on the heels of a major Summit on Wrongful Convictions in Austin last month, and also got the attention of more than a dozen blogs.

The Dallas Morning News said on Sunday that the court was taking a step in the right direction, but lasting change needed to come from legislative action. Read the full DMN editorial here.

The Lufkin Daily News said that “with a history of dubious justice in Texas, the decision by a state appeals court to create an integrity unit is welcome.” Read the full Lufkin editorial here.

Blog coverage of the new unit:

Capitol Annex: Signs the Court of Criminal Appeals Fears the Upcoming Election: An Integrity Unit

Grits for Breakfast: Hervey on innocence proposals: “We’re past meet and discuss”

CrimProfBlog: State sets up watchdog unit for criminal justice system

Unfair Park: So, The State Will Have an Integrity Unit. Which Will Do What, Exactly?




Tags: Texas

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U.S. Congresswoman to hold panel on wrongful convictions and DNA exonerations in Dallas tomorrow

Posted: July 18, 2008 1:00 pm

U.S. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) will host panel discussions tomorrow in Dallas on wrongful convictions and DNA exonerations. The first panel will feature Texas exonerees James Woodard, Charles Chatman, and Billy Smith and the second will feature U.S. Congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan), Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis (who also chairs the Innocence Project’s Board of Directors), Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins and Jeff Blackburn of the Innocence Project of Texas.

Dallas County has had 19 wrongful convictions exonerated by DNA evidence, second in the nation only to Cook County, Illinois. The state of Texas as a whole leads the nation with 32 DNA exonerations.

Read the press release on the Innocence Project of Texas blog.



Tags: Texas, Charles Chatman, Billy James Smith, Innocence Commissions

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A new day for Dallas justice

Posted: July 29, 2008 3:31 pm

The steady pace of DNA exonerations in Dallas recently has cast a dark shadow over the county’s justice system, and officials say they are digging out from the “win at all costs” mentality set during the 36-year tenure of former prosecutor Henry Wade. Now, seven years after Wade’s death, DNA is beginning to show that many of the defendants convicted by Wade were innocent. Nineteen people have been freed by DNA testing in Dallas since 2001, more than any other county – and all but three states, and 250 more cases are currently under review.

Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins, who in 2006 became the first elected African-American chief county prosecutor in Texas history, said the atmosphere needed to change in Dallas to ensure fair justice.

"There was a cowboy kind of mentality and the reality is that kind of approach is archaic, racist, elitist and arrogant," said Watkins, who is 40 and never worked for Wade or met him.
 ..."I think the number of examples of cases show it's troubling," said Nina Morrison, an attorney with the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal group affiliated with the Texas effort. "Whether it's worse than other jurisdictions, it's hard to say. It would be a mistake to conclude the problems in these cases are limited to Dallas or are unique to Dallas.
 Read the full story here. (Associated Press, 07/29/08)
Watch video of a speech by Watkins about his “smart on crime” approach.





Tags: Texas

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Freeing the innocent and identifying true perpetrators

Posted: August 1, 2008 11:00 am

By Thomas McGowan, Texas Exoneree

Thomas McGowan served 23 years in Texas prison for a rape he didn’t commit.  DNA exonerated him, and the real perpetrator was identified. Today on the Innocence Blog, McGowan writes about finding the person whose crime stole 23 years of his life. DNA testing has exonerated 218 wrongfully convicted people to date, and in nearly 40% of those cases, the actual perpetrator of the crime was subsequently identified.

I never saw Kenneth Wayne Woodson; I don’t know if he ever saw me. He went to prison a year later than I did. I’m glad he confessed, but I think the only reason he did is because of the DNA hit. If Woodson had been caught at first, then he wouldn’t have had time to assault anybody else. Now the word is out, even though he can’t be punished for  this crime.

For years I was thinking, how could the witness make a mistake? Last week I learned that Woodson’s photo was in the same lineup that my photo was in.  When she pointed to my picture she said she thought I was the perpetrator, but the police told her she had to say “yes” or “no.” The police pressured her and told her that she had to be sure. Everybody makes mistakes. I don’t hold anything against her.

Woodson is probably one of those people that just doesn’t care. I used to see guys like him sometimes. Guys like that get out of prison two or three times and then they come back. Six months later the same guy comes back and asks me: “Hey, you still here?” Those guys got two or three chances. I couldn’t get one chance and I was innocent. I think the hardest thing was when I came up for parole after doing 20 years. I had two life sentences stacked. I was looking to make it out of there alive. But they weren’t going to let me out. I used to pray to God, “Please, if nothing else, I don’t want to die in prison. I don’t want to go to my grave with my family and friends thinking I did a crime like this.”

DNA is the truth. In my case, we also have a man that confessed that he did the crime. You can’t get the truth any better than that. I served Woodson’s time for him. Ain’t no telling what else he did. I don’t even know what I would say to the dude other than, “It was your fault.” I know everyone can change, but he might be one of those men who finds it real hard to change. People have got to want to do the right thing. For a while, I thought the whole world was crazed and lost. But I can see now that there are still good people in the world.  

Lots of other things are coming into focus now, too. Having a job would make me feel like I have a full life. I would like a job where I can work with people, like at a nursing home or a hospital. It’s just a matter of time until somebody feels like they want to give me a chance. Since three months ago when all of this started happening, it keeps getting better and better. That’s really what I’m working towards. I’m trying to have a life.




Tags: Texas, Thomas McGowan

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Steven Phillips expected to be cleared tomorrow in Dallas

Posted: August 4, 2008 2:50 pm

Twenty-five years after he was wrongfully convicted of a string of sexual assaults he didn’t commit, Innocence Project client Steven Phillips is finally set to be cleared. At a hearing tomorrow in Dallas, Innocence Project attorneys will show that DNA test results and other evidence prove that another man committed a string of sexual assaults for which Steven Phillips was convicted in the early 1980s.

DNA tests now prove that a man named Sidney Allen Goodyear committed a 1982 rape for which Phillips was sentenced to 30 years in prison. And other evidence shows that Goodyear committed a string of sexual assaults in 1982 to which Phillips pled guilty to avoid a possible life sentence. A Dallas judge is expected to recommend that the Court of Criminal Appeals fully exonerate Phillips in all of the cases.

“This is one of the worst cases of tunnel vision we’ve ever seen. Police seized on Steven Phillips as a suspect and refused to see mounting evidence that someone else actually committed these crimes,” said Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck. “Sidney Goodyear was a one-man crime spree who could have been stopped much sooner if police had followed the evidence instead of locking onto an innocent man.” After the Dallas crimes for which Phillips was wrongfully convicted, Goodyear committed at least 16 other sexual assaults and related offenses in multiple states.

Read today’s Innocence Project press release here.
News coverage of tomorrow’s hearing:

Dallas hearing set for man shown innocent by DNA (Associated Press, 07/31/08)





Tags: Texas, Steven Phillips

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Steven Phillips cleared in Dallas

Posted: August 5, 2008 4:20 pm

Innocence Project client Steven Phillips was cleared today in Dallas more than a quarter-century after his wrongful conviction of a string of sex crimes when a judge recommended that his convictions be vacated. He became the 19th person cleared by DNA evidence in Dallas County, and his case will now go to the Court of Criminal Appeals, which could make his exoneration official.

“What a great day. Today is the day the Lord has made and I am grateful to him,” Mr. Phillips said.

Read the full story here. (Dallas Morning News, 08/05/08)
Read more about Phillips’ case here.





Tags: Texas, Steven Phillips

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Texas State Forensic Science Commission to review case of possible wrongful execution

Posted: August 18, 2008 5:00 pm

The Texas State Forensic Science Commission agreed Friday to investigate possible negligence or misconduct in the Cameron Todd Willingham case. Willingham was executed in 2004 for allegedly murdering his three young children by setting his Corsicana home on fire in 1991. An independent panel of arson experts subsequently found that the fire was not arson. In May 2006, the Innocence Project formally submitted a request to the Commission to review arson convictions statewide—particularly in the Willingham case. The Commission’s investigation marks the first time that a state has reviewed a possible wrongful execution.

Read the Houston Chronicle article about the investigation here.
Read the Associated Press article here.
Read additional coverage here and here.



Tags: Texas, Cameron Todd Willingham

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Friday roundup

Posted: September 5, 2008 3:07 pm

New projects and investigations launched this week by innocence organizations, law schools, prosecutors and attorneys general across the country show the momentum nationwide to overturn wrongful convictions and address the root causes of wrongful conviction to prevent future injustice. Here’s this week’s roundup:

Questions were raised about standards of DNA collection and preservation in Massachusetts after improper procedures were revealed in a high-profile case. Mass. is one of 25 states without a DNA preservation law.

The Mississippi Attorney General said this week that the state is underfunding DNA tests and DNA collection and a new task force is examining the state problem.

San Jose opened California’s largest crime lab, training began in Maryland before a new law expanding the state’s database took effect and cutbacks in Georgia led to furloughs for prosecutors and could cause lab closings.

The Midwest Innocence Project this week launched an investigation into a 1988 fire that killed six Kansas City firemen and led to the conviction of five people who say they’re innocent. The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, a first-of-its-kind panel dedicated to investigating cases of possible wrongful conviction, finished reviewing its first case, deciding that there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the conviction of Henry A. Reeves. And  Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins asked county officials to allow filming in his offices in coming months for a Discovery Channel documentary.

Some of the best policy analysis and research to help improve our criminal justice system comes, of course, from our nation’s law schools – and now many of those schools have blogs. Marquette University Law School launched a new faculty law blog, and a post by Keith Sharfman finds that “blogging’s potential as a medium for serious legal discourse can no longer be doubted.” 

A column on Law.com asks: “Is the future of legal scholarship in the blogosphere?”

Here at the Innocence Project, we read law school blogs everyday. Among our favorites are Crim Prof Blog and Evidence Prof Blog

New York University Law School has formed a new Center on the Administration of Criminal Law, which will seek to promote “good government practices in criminal matters.”



Tags: California, North Carolina, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Texas, Innocence Commissions, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing, DNA Databases

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Dispatch from Austin: The Criminal Justice Integrity Unit meets

Posted: September 29, 2008 5:40 pm

The Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit held meetings in Austin on Thursday and heard from witnesses on a variety of topics, including snitch testimony and evidence collection and preservation. The Integrity Unit was created earlier this year by the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals to review criminal justice practices in the state and its members include a cross-section of the criminal justice community.

Scott Henson, who writes the blog Grits for Breakfast and works as a consultant with the Innocence Project of Texas, attended the meeting and wrote about his reactions on Grits. Here’s what he found:

Pat Johnson, who's the field supervisor for DPS' state-run crime labs and a member of the Integrity Unit panel, performed an informal survey of non-DPS crime labs in Texas operated by local jurisdictions. Respondents said that less than 10% of evidence collected at crime scenes was gathered by lab personnel, with most of it being collected by cops. Austin PD is the main exception, he said, with an entirely civilian Crime Scene Investigation unit.

A majority of labs, when asked how good a job they were doing, replied that some improvements were needed.

One lab said they did not believe they were receiving all available evidence that should be examined, while a majority said "we don't know."



John Vasquez from the Texas Association of Property and Evidence Inventory Technicians (TAPEIT) gave an interesting presentation about evidence preservation failures and the need for greater professionalism and implementation of best practices by police department property rooms. TAPEIT has about 600 active members who work in law enforcement agencies around the state, he said. (See their rather active message boards.)



One of the CCA "Integrity Unit" members, Texas House Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden, posed a question to Justice Project President John Terzano regarding snitches during his presentation yesterday that inspired me to (perhaps rudely?) interject from the audience a response to his concerns. (I was attending as part of my consulting gig with the Innocence Project of Texas.)

Terzano was arguing that informants whose testimony will be compensated by money, reduced charges or more lenient sentences for other crimes they've committed should be subjected to a pre-trial reliability hearing in which a judge, outside the purview of the jury, makes an independent determination whether the informant is a reliable source.

Read the three posts on the meeting. (Grits for Breakfast, 09/26/08)
 



Tags: Texas, Innocence Commissions, Evidence Preservation, Informants/Snitches

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Texas Senator calls on state to act against injustice

Posted: October 22, 2008 4:51 pm

Texas State Sen. Rodney Ellis writes in today’s Dallas Morning News that the state legislature should prioritize criminal justice reforms to prevent wrongful convictions in the next session. Ellis, who is also the Innocence Project Board Chairman, wrote about a package of legislation he will introduce in 2009 to overhaul eyewitness identification procedures in the state, require the videotaping of interrogations and mandate the disclosure of deals made with informants for their testimony.

Ultimately, the Texas Legislature, courts and local governments should take responsibility for wrongful convictions. We elected officials to ensure that police departments are adequately funded and officers are properly trained. We also must guarantee that impoverished people accused of crimes receive a quality defense. And the courts are ultimately responsible for ensuring that evidence is reliable, the innocent are freed and defendants' constitutional and due process rights are protected.

Read Ellis’ op-ed here. (Dallas Morning News, 10/22/08)




Tags: Texas, False Confessions, Eyewitness Identification

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Exonerees to Call for Moratorium on Texas Executions

Posted: October 31, 2008 1:30 pm

A group of exonerees will come together in the Texas State Capitol building this afternoon to call for a statewide moratorium on executions. More than 20 people – who served time on death row before evidence of their innocence led to their release – are expected to attend the event, which is being organized by Witness to Innocence, an advocacy organization spearheaded by exonerees. The group argues that exonerations should be halted so state officials can study the “broken death penalty system, which has exonerated nine people from death row since 1987, third only to Florida and Illinois in death-row exonerations.." (Witness to Innocence includes people who were exonerated through DNA testing, as well as many others whose convictions were overturned based on other evidence.)

A column by Bob Ray Sanders in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram considers the prospect of innocent people on death row, and agrees with Witness to Innocence.

More and more leaders are recognizing that we do have a broken system in the Lone Star State.

Last summer the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals announced the creation of a Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit to examine weaknesses in the criminal justice system. And, Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson of the Texas Supreme Court is among those calling for a statewide innocence commission.

It makes sense that while we recognize an imperfect system with weaknesses that must be examined and corrected, there ought not to be any more executions in Texas until those issues have been fully addressed.

The Star-Telegram is on record supporting a moratorium on executions.

Read Sanders’ column here. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 10/29/08)
Watch the press conference live here (on LiveStream 8) at 2 p.m. Central Time.

And visit the Witness to Innocence website here.

Meanwhile, the Texas Criminal Justice Integrity Unit held hearings yesterday on problems with eyewitness identification procedures in the state. Richardson Police Chief Larry Zacharias and Iowa State Psychology Professor Gary Wells were among the speakers.

 



Tags: Texas

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Exonerees, Texas Officials Call for Innocence Commission, Moratorium

Posted: November 3, 2008 4:30 pm

Twenty four exonerated men gathered in front of the Texas State Capitol building last Friday in support of a statewide capital punishment moratorium. As members of Witness to Innocence, a Philadelphia-based organization, the group of former death row inmates also called for a state commission to investigate wrongful convictions.

The men came from across the country (including Ray Krone of Arizona, Juan Melendez of Florida and Clarence Brandley of Texas) and were joined by former Bexar County District Attorney Sam Millsap and Texas State Representative Elliott Naishtat.

Milsap, who took personal responsibility for the 1993 execution of San Antonio man Ruben Cantu that was based on one (later recanting) eyewitness and no physical evidence, said that he was "no longer convinced that our courts will in fact guarantee the protection of the innocent."

"It's a national problem, but a problem that has a distinct Texas face," state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, told the members of Witness to Innocence. Naishtat said he will introduce a bill next session to give the governor the power to declare a temporary moratorium on executions. He also promised to work on behalf of a bill by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, to create a Texas innocence commission.

However, any bill to halt executions stands no chance of passing the Texas Legislature, Naishtat said. Capital punishment has substantial support in Texas. The 2007 Texas Crime Poll by Sam Houston State University found 74 percent of Texans support the death penalty. And 66 percent said they were confident that innocent people are protected from execution.

Read the full article here. (Austin American Statesman, 11/01/08)
Click here to watch the first of five videos covering the press conference.

Listen to local coverage from KUT online or download an mp3

Click here to visit the Witness to Innocence Web site.

 



Tags: Texas, Innocence Commissions

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Crime Labs Suffer Under Backlogs and Budget Crunches, Help on the Way

Posted: November 10, 2008 4:30 pm

Towns and cities in Arizona are refusing to pay the state for forensic tests that used to be done for free. After the Arizona state legislature cut the state crime lab’s budget by half in July, lab officials announced that they would bill law enforcement departments for forensic tests, hoping to collect $2.5 million this fiscal year. But law enforcement officials say they can’t afford the fees for testing.

Police in Douglas, a border town in southeastern Arizona, owe about $23,000 in lab fees. To pay the Department of Public Safety would mean Douglas police could not hire an officer or buy a squad car, Chief Alberto Melis said. The department has four vacancies.
Melis of Douglas said, "For me to come up with this money, I'm going to have to do without something. In a profession where 95 percent of your cost is personnel, I might not be able to hire somebody."
Officers in Payson, Arizona, said they are sending less evidence for testing, which is slowing down investigations.  
Detective Matt Van Camp said he uses every aspect of the crime lab, from firearm testing to its criminalists.

“We used to send everything, but now we have to screen what we send out automatically,” Van Camp said. “This limits the tools available for the prosecutor and police.”

Prosecutors may now have to decide if they want to go to trial before they have the necessary evidence in hand.

“This makes the prosecutor’s job harder,” he said. “Crime labs also prove people innocent, not just guilty.”

Read the full story here. (Payson Roundup, 11/4/08)
Lab backlogs are hurting police investigations in Texas, as well. Results from state labs can take months.
Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley explains that in today's 'CSI world' where jurors see scientific evidence easily gleaned from most crime scenes in TV dramas, they expect to see the same in court cases. But because there are so many requests for testing, and too few state technicians to keep up with demand, he says, "When you ask for DNA testing and results, you're buying in to a six month to one year delay in your case."

Read the full story here. (Key TV, 11/06/08)

Federal assistance should help to defuse the crisis somewhat in Arizona and Texas. The two states, along with Washington, Kentucky and Virginia, recently received a combined $7.8 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Justice to help with DNA testing in serious felony cases. The DOJ’s grant program requires states to comply with standards for storage and testing of evidence, and also to significantly reduce backlogs through improved training and technology. Read more about the DOJ grant program here.

 



Tags: Arizona, Texas, Access to DNA Testing

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Texas Senator Introduces Legislation To Prevent Wrongful Convictions

Posted: November 14, 2008 4:15 pm

Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis has said  that in the 2009 term he would introduce legislation to reform eyewitness identification procedures, and this week he did just that. On Monday, Senator Ellis (who also serves as the Innocence Project Board Chairman) submitted three key pieces of legislation to improve the criminal justice system in Texas, and prevent further wrongful convictions.

SB 115 would create an Innocence Commission to investigate the causes of wrongful convictions in Texas, and propose solutions to prevent similar injustices.  SB 116 would require the videotaping of custodial interrogations, which greatly reduce the possibility of false confessions and, perhaps most importantly, provide judges and juries with the best evidence of what transpired during an interrogation. SB 117 requires police departments to adopt eyewitness identification procedures that are proven by research and experience to minimize the possibility of eyewitness misidentification, and to also commit those eyewitness identification procedures to writing.

An investigative report by the Dallas Morning News in October showed that faulty eyewitness testimony played a major role in 18 of the 19 Dallas County wrongful convictions proven by post-conviction DNA testing. Praising The Dallas News and maintaining the need for these reforms, Senator Ellis wrote:

As evidenced by The Dallas News' series…which did the state a great service by investigating the causes of Dallas County's 19 DNA exonerations, eyewitness identification procedures must be overhauled, with the goal of making evidence as reliable as possible. Under my proposal, police departments must adopt procedures based on science and proven best practices and train detectives in these methods.
Eyewitness identification reform is being embraced in municipalities, counties, and states across the country, but there is still a long way to go before the most accurate eyewitness identification practices are standard practice. These bills in Texas, and other reforms set to be introduced across the country in 2009, are a sign that critical reforms to aid law enforcement and prevent wrongful convictions could be on the horizon.

Learn more about the Innocence Project’s recommended policy reforms here.



Tags: Texas, Eyewitness Identification

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Eight years free

Posted: November 14, 2008 4:52 pm

Anthony Robison spent ten years in prison for a rape he did not commit and thirteen years fighting for the DNA testing that would finally exonerate him. Today marks the eighth anniversary of his exoneration.

On the day of the crime, Robinson was picking up a car for a friend at the University of Houston. University police blocked his car and accused him of raping a woman. According to the victim, her attacker was a black man wearing a jacket. Despite the victim stating the perpetrator had a moustache, which Robinson did not, he was brought in for questioning. No physical evidence linked him to the crime. Based solely on the victim’s testimony, Robinson was sentenced to 27 years in 1987. When reflecting on how he felt at the time of his wrongful conviction, Robinson said, “It was not so much the fear of imprisonment. It wasn’t so much the fear of what was going to happen. Everything that I had lived for, everything that I had done had been boiled down to — we think you’re a rapist with no evidence whatsoever other than your skin and someone saying you did this.”

After serving ten years of his sentence, he was paroled and began raising funds to obtain DNA testing on the evidence used in his trial. He saved $1,800 through working jobs such as an order clerk at a local oil field supply company and other temporary jobs. Although he was a college graduate and a former Army officer, his status as a registered sex offender excluded him from higher paying jobs. Robinson hired an attorney, Randy Schaffer, and obtained access to DNA testing on evidence in his case. The results proved what he had known all along – another man had committed the crime.

On November 14, 2000, Governor George W. Bush pardoned Robinson. Since his exoneration, Robinson has spoken to lawmakers and the media, playing a key role in the passage of a law in Texas compensating the wrongfully convicted after their release.

Robinson went on to graduate from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, and currently works in international law.

While Robinson worked on parole in order to pay for DNA testing, many others are unable to pay for the expensive tests. Make a donation today to help the Innocence Project pay for DNA testing for our current clients.

Other exoneration anniversaries this week:

David Brian Sutherlin, Minnesota (Exonerated 2002)

Paula Gray, Illinois (Served 9 years, Exonerated 2002)

Donald Reynolds, Illinois (Served 9.5 years, Exonerated 1997)

Billy Wardell, Illinois (Served 9.5 years, Exonerated 1997)





Tags: Texas, Anthony Robinson

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The Exonerator

Posted: November 17, 2008 1:45 pm

A profile of Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins in the Wall Street Journal this weekend examined his role in exonerating innocent prisoners from Dallas County. More wrongful convictions have been overturned since 2001 in Dallas County than anywhere else in the U.S. during that time, and Watkins has taken an active role in reviewing questionable convictions through his new Conviction Integrity Unit.

Of course, Watkins’ approach has its critics as well, who call him "a criminal-loving DA, a hug-a-thug DA." But Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck told the Journal that Watkins’ openness to pursue claims of innocence often helps find the real perpetrator in these cases and create leads in other cold cases.

"Many times, you bring these cases to district attorneys and they say, 'You can't go see my file. I won't do anything.' There's a knee-jerk reluctance to revisit anything," says Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project. He thinks this will eventually change, and that Dallas County's aggressive approach will serve as a model for others. "Watkins takes the view that if he can correct a wrongful conviction, that's a good thing."

Read the full story here. (Watt Street Journal, 11/15/08)




Tags: Texas

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Houston Man on His Way to Exoneration

Posted: December 11, 2008 6:00 pm

After spending five years in prison, a Houston man is set to be released tomorrow because DNA testing shows he did not commit a 2002 child rape.  The Harris County District Attorney's Office announced this afternoon that it would make arrangements for a bond hearing to take place December 12 in Houston.

Convicted in 2003, Ricardo Rachell was originally sentenced to serve 40 years after being charged and convicted of sexually assaulting an eight-year-old child. Despite having been denied a DNA test in his original trial and subsequent appeals, Rachell's case is one of 540 currently under investigation by Harris County District Attorney Kenneth Magidson and his office as a result of Houston's crime lab debacle.

DNA evidence collected by Houston police during their investigation of Rachell was never tested, which was a mistake, Magidson said. He said his office has reopened the case and identified a new suspect, who has not been charged.
Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 12/11/2008)
In a press release today, Magidson made assurances that his office would continue to investigate cases where DNA testing could prove innocence. Over the last several years, the Innocence Project has called for the review of several hundred Harris County cases that may have been tainted by improper work in the Houston crime lab. Read the Harris County DA's Office press release here and a timeline of events in the Rachell case here.

Read more about the Houston Crime Lab on our blog or view a list of Texas exonerees here.

 



Tags: Texas, Access to DNA Testing, DNA Databases

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DNA Tests in Texas Case May Prove Two Men Innocent

Posted: January 8, 2009 2:00 pm

New DNA evidence may exclude two men long considered to be guilty of one of the most controversial homicide cases in Austin, Texas. Robert Springsteen, Michael Scott, Maurice Pearce and Forrest Welborn were all charged in 1991 for the murder of four teenagers, but only Springsteen and Scott were tried and convicted.

The four teenage girls were murdered at an I Can't Believe its Yogurt shop 17 years ago, but preliminary forensic DNA evidence from three of the four victims is reported be from multiple sources, none of which match Springsteen or Scott (nor do they match Maurice Pearce or Forrest Welborn ). Although both men also made admissions of guilt, they have since told the court that the confessions were coerced by investigating police officers.

Both Springsteen and Scott were in court this week, and although the final DNA test report will not be ready until next week, the judge told Springsteen and Scott that he would allow two more attorneys to help the defendants with their case.

Read the full story here
. (News 8 Austin, 1/7/09)

Read background on the case here.





Tags: Texas, False Confessions, Access to DNA Testing

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New Discovery Channel Series, 'Dallas DNA,' Premieres Tomorrow

Posted: April 27, 2009 1:00 pm

A new television series premiering tomorrow explores the importance of DNA testing and how a group of prosecutors in Texas are working to exonerate the wrongfully convicted.

Chronicling the efforts of local Dallas prosecutors to review possible wrongful convictions, “Dallas DNA” takes a look at the work of the county’s conviction integrity unit, which was created by Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins in January 2007 in response to the county's 19 DNA-based exonerations. The show premieres on Investigative Discovery on Tuesday, April 28 at 10 p.m. EST (check your local listings).

Tonight there will be a special screening of the new series at 6 p.m. at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, where both Watkins and Innocence Project Executive Director Madeline deLone will speak and take questions about the importance of post-conviction DNA testing.

Special screening of “Dallas DNA”
Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University
Greenberg Center for Student Life, Third Floor
55 Fifth Avenue (map)
The event is free to the public. To attend, please RSVP by e-mailing DallasDNA_NewYork@discovery.com.

Learn more about “Dallas DNA” here.



Tags: Texas, Reforms, Access to DNA Testing

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Houston crime lab implicated in another possible wrongful conviction

Posted: April 28, 2009 5:00 pm

Twenty two years after being wrongfully convicted for a rape and robbery in Texas, a Houston man may be released on bail this week on the heels of new DNA tests proving his innocence.

Gary Alvin Richard was arrested for the January 1987 attack of a 22-year-old nursing student and was convicted based largely on evidence processed by the Houston Police Department crime lab, the same lab that came under fire in 2002 after local reports raised questions about the quality of DNA testing. According to the Houston Chronicle, there are a number of problems with Richard’s case:

The victim identified him some seven months after the attack. HPD crime lab analysts came to conflicting conclusions about the evidence, but reported only the results favorable to the case. Physical evidence collected in what is known as a “rape kit” has been destroyed, a victim of poor evidence preservation practices, leaving nothing for DNA testing now.

Read the full story here. (Houston Chronicle, 4/24/09)
During his original trial, HPD crime lab supervisor James Bolding testified that Richard was a non-secretor, meaning that analysts would not be able to determine Richard’s blood type through his body fluids. However, while tests done last week confirmed that semen from the rape kit came from a non-secretor, it also showed that Richard is a secretor. Therefore, the semen found on the rape kit could not be his.

While Richard’s defense claims that the blood tests prove his innocence, prosecutors aren’t as sure. The Houston District Attorney’s office concedes that Richard should be released on bail, but has said that it is too early in the reexamination process to clear Richard of all charges. Three Harris County men have already been proven innocent through DNA testing after mistakes at the HPD crime lab led to their wrongful convictions: Josiah Sutton, George Rodriguez and Ronald Taylor.

Read more about the history of the Houston crime lab scandal in previous blog posts.

 



Tags: Texas, George Rodriguez, Josiah Sutton, Ronald Taylor, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing

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Will Texas Legislators Return for Innocence Reforms?

Posted: June 9, 2009 5:45 pm

Texas Gov. Rick Perry told reporters this afternoon that the state legislature will definitely have a special session this summer to deal with “a number of really good pieces of legislation.” Perry said that among the pending legislation that should be addressed is a bill that would have given him the power to posthumously pardon Tim Cole, who was exonerated ten years after he died in prison while serving for a crime he didn’t commit.

Texas lawmakers ended their session last week with several critical reforms addressing wrongful convictions still on the table. Although an improvement to exoneree compensation was passed and signed by Perry this year, bills requiring recorded interrogation and improved eyewitness identification were stalled by legislative maneuvering.

Read today’s update here. (Dallas Morning News, 06/09/09)




Tags: Texas, Timothy Cole

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Dallas Man Released After 14 Years

Posted: October 13, 2009 6:00 pm

Richard Miles was arrested and convicted of murder and attempted murder in 1995 and, after 14 years behind bars, has been released after the court ruled that police failed to alert both the prosecution and defense to a phone call implicating a different suspect before trial.

With help from Centurion Ministries, Miles had his conviction overturned on October 13; the prosecution has not announced whether or not they will pursue a new trial against Miles:

The DA's office said that it will continue to investigate the case but that the new information makes it question Miles' guilt. Prosecutors are also trying to determine whether charges can be brought against anyone else.

[State District Judge Andy] Chatham told Miles as he stood before the judge's bench that he could not guarantee anything, but it appeared that his convictions would be overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeals. Chatham released Miles on his own recognizance, meaning Miles did not have to pay bail.

Read the report here. (Dallas Morning News, 10/13/09)
   
Judge Chatham was swayed by the fact that officers failed to properly investigate the phone call from a woman telling officers that her ex-boyfriend confessed to the crime. Critics of Miles’ original conviction argue that there were other examples of misconduct: several witnesses told investigating officers that Miles was not the gunman, and although Miles tested positive for low levels of gunpowder residue, he had been tested after he had already been handcuffed. In addition, there was no serological evidence introduced.

 



Tags: Texas, Government Misconduct

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Police Chiefs Recognize Importance of Eyewitness Identification Reform

Posted: October 14, 2009 4:45 pm

The latest issue of Police Chief Magazine features an article on the importance of eyewitness identification reform. “Eyewitness Identification: Views from the Trenches” chronicles the experiences of four law enforcement officers, and how each of them came to discover the need for reform.

One of the article’s four co-authors is Mike Corley, assistant chief for the Richardson Police Department in Texas. Corley was the lead investigator in the case of Thomas McGowan, a Texas exoneree who was released in April 2008 when DNA testing proved McGowan’s innocence of a 1985 burglary and aggravated sexual assault.

Corley wrote that despite his confidence in the eyewitness' identification of McGowan as her attacker and his supervisor's confidence in his work, realizing that McGowan was wrongly imprisoned for 23 years was "was like being kicked in the stomach." Despite the mistakes made, however, Corley stresses the importance of reform to prevent them from happening again:

"My point in making this example is simply to say that it can happen to any witness and any police department. As leaders, we must challenge ourselves and our subordinates to use the best procedures. The consequences are too high."
 
Read the full story here. (Police Chief Magazine, 10/1/09)
Read more about how Assistant Police Chief Corley, Exoneree Thomas McGowan and the victim in the case are working together to raise awareness about eyewitness misidentifications.



Tags: Texas, Thomas McGowan

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Texas Dog Handler to Retire

Posted: January 21, 2010 4:05 pm

A Texas sheriff’s deputy who has come under fire in recent months for questionable investigative practices announced yesterday that he will retire at the end of the month.

The Fort Bend County Sheriff’s office said 63-year-old deputy Keith Pikett’s decision to retire was not related to pending lawsuits against him. Sheriff Milton Wright did say, however, that demand for Pikett’s services handling scent-tracking dogs had declined following recent negative reports. “The adverse publicity has certainly shut him down — at least out of county,“ Wright told the Associated Press.

For more than 20 years, Pikett has trained police dogs and conducted more than 2,000 “scent lineups” — procedures in which dogs examine a group of scents, including a suspect’s, to determine if any match a scent from the crime scene.

At least three lawsuits allege that Pikett’s dogs picked innocent people, leading to wrongful arrests. All three cases were dropped before trial. Additionally, a report from the Innocence Project of Texas in September questioned the accuracy of scent lineups and alleged that Texas prosecutors use Pikett’s scent lineups to confirm suspicions about a suspect.




Tags: Texas, Forensic Oversight, Dog Scent

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Timothy Cole Officially Pardoned

Posted: March 1, 2010 3:30 pm

UPDATE: Today, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed the official pardon for Timothy Cole, marking the first posthumous pardon in Texas history. 

In a statement, Perry said: “I have been looking forward to the day I could tell Tim Cole’s mother that her son’s name has been cleared for a crime he did not commit,” Gov. Perry said. “The State of Texas cannot give back the time he spent in prison away from his loved ones, but today I was finally able to tell her we have cleared his name, and hope this brings a measure of peace to his family.”

Read more here.

Original post:

Timothy Cole was wrongfully convicted of rape more than two decades ago and died in prison in 1999, at the age of 39.  Last year, DNA testing proved his innocence, and now the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles is recommending that he be fully pardoned.  If the governor follows through, Cole’s case will be the state's first posthumous pardon.

On Friday, the board notified the Innocence Project of Texas that it voted to recommend clemency. The board forwarded its decision to Gov. Rick Perry for his signature. In an e-mail to The Associated Press on Saturday, Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle wrote, "Gov. Perry looks forward to pardoning Tim Cole pending the receipt of a positive recommendation from the Board of Pardons and Paroles."

Years after Cole’s death, an investigation by the Innocence Project of Texas led to DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene. The test results proved Cole’s innocence and implicated another man, Jerry Wayne Johnson, who had begun writing letters in 1995 confessing to the crime. Last year, the Innocence Project served as co-counsel at an unusual court hearing to clear Cole’s name after his death, and a judge declared him innocent.

Cory Session, who has been fighting to clear his brother's name for years, said he anticipates that the governor will sign Cole's pardon in March during a ceremony in Fort Worth. Session said he hopes that his brother’s case helps people understand that just because people come into court underfunded and underrepresented, it does not necessarily mean that they are guilty. "The question is: How many more Tim Coles are out there?" he told the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

Last year, the Texas Legislature passed the Tim Cole Act, increasing compensation to people who have been wrongfully convicted from $50,000 to $80,000 for each year of imprisonment.

Eyewitness misidentification and unvalidated forensic science led to Cole’s arrest and wrongful conviction when he was a 26-year-old Army veteran studying business at Texas Tech in 1985. The victim in Timothy’s case, Michele Mallin, has since come forward to raise awareness about misidentifications, forensic science reform and wrongful convictions. Mallin has joined Cole’s family in working to posthumously exonerate him.

In an op-ed piece in the Houston Chronicle last year, Mallin urged Congress to create a federal entity to strengthen forensic science nationwide. “I put my faith in the criminal justice system, and it failed me,” she wrote, “I have learned a great deal over the last year -- about myself, about Cole and about our system of justice. One of the most troubling things I've learned is that juries often hear evidence that is not as solid as it sounds.”

Learn more about unvalidated and improper science – and sign the petition calling on Congress to take action – here.

Read more on Timothy Cole’s case here.



Tags: Texas, Timothy Cole, Exoneree Compensation

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After Posthumous Pardon in Texas, a Resolve to Help Fix the System

Posted: March 2, 2010 4:00 pm

This week, Timothy Cole became the first person in Texas to be exonerated and fully pardoned posthumously as a result of DNA testing. The heartbreaking case begs the question: How many others are there, and how can they be prevented?

DNA testing more than two decades after Cole’s wrongful conviction finally cleared him in 2008 and pointed to convicted rapist Jerry Wayne Johnson, who had already confessed to the crime in letters to court officials, as well as other rapes dating back several years.

A year ago, in an unprecedented legal move, Cole's family and lawyers appeared in an Austin courtroom in pursuit of a posthumous ruling to clear his name. According to advocates for the wrongfully convicted, the strategy was unique in Texas and rare in the U.S.  The Innocence Project served as co-counsel with the Innocence Project of Texas in that hearing. A judge declared Cole innocent, and he was exonerated.

On March 1, 2009 Texas Governor Rick Perry fully pardoned Cole. The development gives comfort to his family, but it is also a painful reminder of an innocent man’s life lost.

Cole’s mother said the pardon was a long time coming.

"I am so happy," Ruby Session, Cole's mother, said from her home in Burleson. "I just know that Tim is up there smiling."

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously to recommend the posthumous pardon for innocence.

Under state law, Perry had to wait for the board's recommendation before he could sign the pardon."There was overwhelming evidence. It was very clear that he was wrongly imprisoned," Perry said after a campaign event in San Antonio.

He called Session to tell her the news.

"It was really awesome," the governor said, adding that he and Session have formed a warm relationship over the past year or so.

Cole's family is eligible for state recompense, which amounts to just over $1 million based on his 13 years of wrongful incarceration

Read the full Dallas Morning News story.

Texas leads the country with 40 wrongful convictions that have been overturned by DNA testing—only half of the exonerated in Texas received compensation for time spent behind bars. 

Eyewitness misidentification, which contributed to Cole’s wrongful conviction, is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing.  Faulty forensic science also played a role in Cole’s wrongful conviction. Eyewitness misidentification was a factor in 33 of Texas’s cases and unvalidated or improper forensic science contributed to 17 of the wrongful convictions.

A growing number of Texas legislators, led by State Senator Rodney Ellis (who also serves as chairman of the Innocence Project Board of Directors) are determined to improve the state’s criminal justice system to prevent more wrongful convictions.

Ellis said more work remains to be done to guard against similar situations, such as pushing to require every law enforcement agency in Texas to have written eyewitness identification procedures based on best practices.
“While this is the first posthumous pardon in Texas,” Ellis said in a statement, “we have a long way to go if we are going to make sure it is the last.”

Read the full Houston Chronicle story.

Cole’s family said they will continue working to make sure other people don’t suffer the same injustice he did.
During the 2009 Legislature, Cole's prom night picture was posted at legislative committee hearings as relatives traveled repeatedly to Austin on behalf of bills designed to correct flaws in the state's criminal justice system. Even amid her euphoria over the pardon announcement, Ruby Session said there is still much to do.

"We will be doing this work as long as I'm able," said Session, who is scheduled to undergo surgery this week for an arterial aneurysm. "We're on the forefront of a new day in the criminal justice system."

Read the full Star-Telegram story.

Read more about Texas exonerees here.

Coverage of Cole’s pardon:

Houston Chronicle (3/1/10)

BBC News (3/2/10)

BBC News (3/2/10)

Fort Worth Star Telegram (3/1/10)

Associated Press (3/2/10)

AOL News (3/2/10)




Tags: Texas, Timothy Cole

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Friday Roundup: Seeking Freedom and Reform

Posted: March 5, 2010 5:45 pm

An editorial in the San Antonio Express News says that it took too long to clear Timothy Cole’s name and that there is need for further reforms in Texas.  The Tim Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions is in the process of conducting a year-long review of the Texas justice system. Its recommendations will go to the Legislature for the 2011 session.

On Thursday, Troy Bradford of Ohio said he was innocent of a series of brutal burglaries that he was convicted of over a year ago. With no physical evidence against him, Bradford appealed the conviction, questioning the method by which the witness identification was obtained.  He reached out to the Ohio Innocence Project, which asked prosecutors to test a fingerprint found at one of the scenes. The county prosecutor released the results of the fingerprint analysis Thursday. Two of the comparisons are not a match, and a third one has not yet been analyzed.  Local prosecutors said they have no plans to reopen the case.

A Houston judge declared the death penalty unconstitutional yesterday and granted a motion filed in a capital case seeking to have the court find that Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 37.071 "violates the protections afforded to the Accused by the 8th and 14th Amendments . . . and that the option to sentence the Accused to die for a crime that he did not commit should be precluded as a sentencing option."

Wisconsin Innocence Project Co-Director Keith Findley is calling for a new jury in client Terry Vollbrecht’s murder trial.  Vollbrecht has served 20 years of a life sentence for the murder of Angela Hackl in Sauk County over two decades ago. An investigator for the state Public Defender's office admitted to not following up on several leads in the original investigation which implicated other people in the crime.



Tags: Ohio, Texas, Wisconsin, Timothy Cole

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Former Prosecutor Calls for DNA Testing in Texas Case

Posted: March 10, 2010 4:30 pm

A former prosecutor in Texas today called for DNA testing in the case of a man who is set to be executed later this month. Hank Skinner, who has been requesting DNA testing for a decade, is scheduled to die on March 24 – even though critical evidence in the case has not been subjected to DNA testing that could prove his innocence. In an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle, Sam Millsap writes that DNA testing only works if it is used.

If DNA tests could remove the uncertainty about Skinner's guilt — one way or the other — there's not a good reason in the world not to do it.

Some taxpayers may grumble at spending the public's money on DNA tests for individuals on death row. That argument doesn't hold water in Skinner's case. In 2000, the investigative journalists at the Medill Innocence Project offered to pay for the DNA tests. Ten years later, that offer still stands. There may be other objections to testing the evidence, but they don't outweigh the potential horror of executing an innocent man.

...

Skinner's execution date is just a few days away, but key pieces of evidence have never been tested, including two knives, one of which might be the murder weapon; a man's windbreaker, which had blood, sweat and hair on it and was found next to the victim's body; the victim's fingernails, which may have DNA evidence under them; and samples from a rape kit.

Skinner has maintained his innocence since his arrest and his attorneys filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court asking to stop his execution so DNA testing can be conducted.

Read the full op-ed here.  Houston Chronicle (03/10/10)

Read more about Hank Skinner’s case here.

Learn more about the Innocence Project’s position on the death penalty and people who have been exonerated after spending time on death row here.




Tags: Texas

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Texas Forensic Science Commission May Finally Return to Willingham Case

Posted: April 12, 2010 5:30 pm

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the commission may be moving forward with the Willingham investigation and that the case will be discussed at the April 23 meeting.

"I think the commission is looking forward to being able to get down to work," said [defense attorney and commission member Lance] Evans, who was appointed in October.
     


Commission Chairman John Bradley told the Star-Telegram in e-mails last week that the commission will discuss the Willingham case and other pending complaints when it meets at the Omni Mandalay Hotel at Las Colinas. It is not known how long resolving the Willingham case will take.



Bradley declined to discuss the commission's investigations, but three other commissioners said the Willingham inquiry has been tentatively assigned to a three-member investigation panel: Bradley, [Tarrant County Medical Examiner and commissioner Nizam] Peerwani and Sarah Kerrigan, a forensic toxicologist and director of a regional crime lab at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville.



Peerwani said that the screening committee has scheduled a meeting for Thursday in his Fort Worth office but that members of the second panel who were assigned to the Willingham case have yet to get together. It remains unclear to what extent the Willingham panel will rely on the previous work of the original commission, but Peerwani hopes that the panel won't have to start from scratch.

"We do have a lot of material that the commission has collected," said Peerwani, who has been Tarrant County's medical examiner for 30 years. "I don't think we have to go back and restart all those investigations."

But "it's still up in the air. I don't know what the commission is going to do," he said.

[Commissioner, professor and chairman of the department of forensic and investigative genetics at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth Jay] Eisenberg, a member of the commission since October 2006, said he is "pleased that we're going to get back to the discussion."

"We had invested a lot of time and effort in terms of the material," Eisenberg said.

Read the full story here.

For more on the Willingham case and the pending allegation at the Texas Forensic Science Commission, see our Willingham Resource Center here.



Tags: Texas

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Texas Commission Set To Discuss Arson Cases Friday

Posted: April 22, 2010 3:00 pm

The Willingham case was not discussed when the commission met in January, but it is on the agenda for Friday’s meeting.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission was created by the Texas Legislature in 2005 for the purpose of investigating allegations of negligence or misconduct that would significantly affect the results of forensic analysis. The Innocence Project formally asked the commission to investigate the Willingham and Willis cases in 2006. That request specifically asked the commission to determine whether there was negligence or misconduct in the forensic analysis that initially deemed the fire arson and – importantly – to determine whether other arson convictions in Texas may have been based on the same kind of unreliable forensic analysis.

In 2008, the Texas Forensic Science Commission agreed to investigate the case. The commission hired renowned arson expert Craig Beyler to review all of the evidence in the case. In August 2009, Beyler submitted his report to the commission, finding that the forensic analysis used to convict Willingham was wrong – and that experts who testified at Willingham’s trial should have known it was wrong at the time.

For full background on the Willingham case, see the Innocence Project’s Resource Center here.

For the full meeting agenda, click here.

You can view live video from the meeting on the Innocence Project’s website here.



Tags: Texas, Cameron Todd Willingham

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Texas Defense Lawyers Blame Politics for Derailing Forensic Science Commission's Work

Posted: May 4, 2010 5:00 pm

The Houston Chronicle reports that an appellate court in a San Antonio case found that meetings of a city council subcommittee should have been open to the public.

“Because evidence ... indicated that the subcommittee actually made the final decisions and the City Council merely ‘rubber stamped’ them,” the attorney general’s handbook says, the meetings should have been open.

“Here,” Schneider said of the forensic board, “you have the (subcommittee) hearing evidence and deciding what evidence will be presented. So, just because you don’t have a quorum doesn’t mean it’s not doing the full commission’s work.”

Bradley countered that “no binding decisions are made by the committees, only recommendations that must be reviewed, debated and ultimately voted on by the entire Forensic Science Commission in a public forum.”

Several separate expert reviews have found that the forensic analysis used to convict Willingham was incorrect and that experts who testified at his trial should have known it was wrong at the time.  Willingham maintained his innocence until his execution in 2004.  

Read the full story here.

Learn about the Willingham case and the Texas Forensic Science Commission here.



Tags: Texas, Cameron Todd Willingham

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“A Plea for Justice”

Posted: September 2, 2010 3:36 pm





Tags: Texas, Timothy Cole

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Reducing Wrongful Convictions in Texas

Posted: September 7, 2010 5:27 pm

While the work of the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel represents a significant step forward for criminal justice reform in Texas, Ellis and Session write that reforms are still needed, including improving  eyewitness identification procedures, mandatory electronic recording of custodial interrogations and access to post-conviction DNA testing. They also call for the formation of a “fully functioning” Texas Forensic Science Commission.


Now the ball is in the Legislature's court. We call on the Legislature and the next governor to make the reliability and integrity of our criminal justice system a top priority in the coming session - fairness and justice shouldn't be partisan issues.


Read the full editorial.

Learn more about DNA exonerations in Texas.



Tags: Texas, Timothy Cole

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Texas Murder Conviction Thrown Out, Dog-Scent Evidence Ruled Insufficient

Posted: September 23, 2010 4:53 pm


Last year, the Innocence Project of Texas wrote a report about dog-scent lineup practice and referred to Pikett’s work as "junk science." In some cases, Pikett’s dogs linked suspects to crimes for which they would eventually be exonerated of any involvement.  The report’s release prompted Deputy Pikett to resign as a Fort Bend County Sheriff's Deputy. Texas had been using Pikett in criminal prosecutions for years.

This is the first time the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that dog-scent evidence has limited significance. 


Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas, hailed the ruling as a big step toward eliminating dog scent evidence from courtrooms, even if the court did not go that far.

"I think we've done a lot of damage — and this case does a lot more damage — to the use of this nonsense in Texas courts," Blackburn said. "I think this is a real opening. With the Court of Criminal Appeals, you have to measure progress in baby steps. Anyone looking to them for big changes in the criminal justice system is looking in the wrong place. But if you understand that, it's a real big step forward. At the very least, I think we have effectively put this guy out of business."

Read the full story here.


Winfrey was represented by Innocence Project of Texas Board Member, Shirley Baccus-Lobel. 

Read the court’s full opinion here.

Read the Innocence Project of Texas’ 2009 dog-scent report here.




Tags: Texas

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Texas Bill Seeks to Improve Eyewitness Identification Procedures (Updated)

Posted: February 22, 2011 4:42 pm

The Innocence Project of Texas, which supports Gallego’s bill, estimates there are 2,000 to 3,000 people in Texas prisons who have been wrongfully convicted.

"Our memories are not like cameras," said Innocence Project of Texas Policy Director Scott Henson. "Eyewitness testimony is trace evidence so like all trace evidence, it can be contaminated if it’s not gathered properly."

This morning, recent DNA exoneree Cornelius Dupree and several other Texas exonerees spoke before the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee in support of the bill.

Watch Dupree and Sen. Rodney Ellis discuss the problems with eyewitness identification.

Read the full story.

Learn about the causes of eyewitness misidentification and how to reform eyewitness identification procedures.



Tags: Texas

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Texas Bill Would Improve Access to DNA Testing

Posted: April 7, 2011 3:54 pm

"Under current law, innocence is often being left to chance," Ellis said in a press release. Strengthening Texas' post-conviction DNA law is an essential measure to improve justice in Texas."


Senate Bill 122 was among the measures recommended by the Tim Cole Advisory Panel to prevent future wrongful convictions like that of Cole, who died in prison before he could clear his name of a rape he did not commit.

Other recommendations from the Advisory Panel include reforms to improve eyewitness identification procedures and recording of interrogations.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

Read the full article.

National View: Which States Lack DNA Testing Access Laws?

Learn more about access to DNA testing.





Tags: Texas

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TFSC Approves Arson Recommendations

Posted: April 18, 2011 5:19 pm

Although the commission approved a first draft report with 16 recommendations for fire investigators, prosecutors and defense attorneys and lawmakers, it still hasn’t said whether arson investigators were negligent in Willingham’s case.



The state commission can't exonerate Willingham or reopen his case but determines whether forensic science in such cases was sound. The eight-member panel won't make a ruling on negligence or professional misconduct by the fire's initial investigators until it gets word from the attorney general, a decision not likely until July. John Bradley, a suburban Austin district attorney and the commission chairman appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2009, had requested the legal opinion. After courts rejected appeals in Willingham's case, Perry refused to stop Willingham's execution.

"In general, I'm satisfied," said Stephen Saloom, policy director for the Innocence Project, which first raised questions about the case. "They were constrained by the AG's opinion and have had to overcome the chairman's relentless efforts to keep a lot of issues down. In the areas they're permitted to address, they've made some significant progress and deserve credit for that."



"They've gotten much more specific," he said. "It responds to the allegations as much as possible. This gives a chance for all those past cases."


Read the full article.

Read more on Willingham and the Texas Forensic Science Commission.




Tags: Texas, Cameron Todd Willingham

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48 Hours: Mystery Airs Special on Anthony Graves Case This Saturday

Posted: April 21, 2011 5:12 pm

The Innocence Blog has previously covered the Anthony Graves case and has linked to the extensively researched Texas Monthly article by Pamela Colloff. CBS’s 48 Hours: Mystery was on the scene for Anthony’s reunion with his family, and will air their special, "Grave Injustice" this Saturday, April 23, at 9 p.m. (CST).

Correspondent Richard Schlesinger talks to both Siegler and Colloff, as well as Houston journalism professor Nicole Casarez and some of the students who originally reinvestigated Graves’ case.

Watch 48 Hours’s raw video of Anthony’s release below:











Tags: Texas

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The Long Road to Compensation

Posted: May 23, 2011 5:17 pm

Although his first trial resulted in a hung jury, the verdict in a second trial sentenced him to death.  The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the verdict because Brandley was found to have been the victim of racial prejudice, witness intimidation and perjured testimony, reported Your Houston News.


"We have to follow what’s set in law," said R.J. DaSilva, a spokesman for Comptroller Susan Combs.

The Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code requires that, in order to be compensated, a former inmate must have received a pardon of innocence by the governor or have been granted relief by the court "on the basis of actual innocence," the letter states.

"The court order that was submitted with Mr. Brandley’s claim did not meet the actual innocence requirement" of the statute.


DaSilva also said that Brandley waited too long to apply for compensation, only filing within the past few months. 

He was released at the end of 1989 and the law requires a person seeking compensation to file an application no later than the third anniversary of their prison release.

Since 2001, when the fund that compensates wrongfully imprisoned people in Texas was founded, the state has paid out $37.4 million to 70 people through the fund.

Read the full article.

Innocence Project Report: Making Up for Lost Time.

National View: 27 States Have Compensation Statutes: Is Yours One?

Read more about compensating the wrongfully convicted.



Tags: Texas, Exoneree Compensation

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Friday Roundup: Compensation, Real Perpetrators and the Death Penalty

Posted: January 20, 2012 1:00 pm





Tags: Ohio, Texas, Washington, New York, Exoneree Compensation, Forensic Oversight, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics, Life After Exoneration, Death Penalty, Real Perpetrator

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Science Thursday

Posted: February 2, 2012 3:00 pm





Tags: Arkansas, California, Ohio, Texas

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Texas Judge Recommends Court of Inquiry on Prosecutorial Misconduct in Morton Case

Posted: February 10, 2012 6:30 pm





Tags: Texas

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Science Thursday

Posted: February 16, 2012 10:45 am





Tags: California, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington

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Friday Roundup: Claims of Innocence and Fighting for Justice

Posted: February 17, 2012 4:15 pm





Tags: Connecticut, Texas, Virginia

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Willingham Documentary Hits iTunes

Posted: February 21, 2012 5:00 pm





Tags: Texas, Cameron Todd Willingham

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Praise for Court of Inquiry Order in Morton Case

Posted: February 22, 2012 4:00 pm





Tags: Texas, Michael Morton

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Science Thursday

Posted: February 23, 2012 5:25 pm





Tags: Pennsylvania, Texas

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Science Thursday

Posted: March 1, 2012 1:45 pm





Tags: Indiana, Texas

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Science Thursday

Posted: March 8, 2012 12:00 pm





Tags: Michigan, Texas

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Special Prosecutor Appointed to Court of Inquiry in Morton Case

Posted: March 13, 2012 5:15 pm





Tags: Texas, Michael Morton

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Science Thursday

Posted: March 15, 2012 5:30 pm





Tags: District of Columbia, Ohio, Texas, Virginia

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Science Thursday

Posted: March 22, 2012 11:00 am





Tags: Alabama, Texas

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60 Minutes Features Innocence Project Client Michael Morton

Posted: March 26, 2012 5:50 pm





Tags: Texas, Government Misconduct, Michael Morton

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Panel Discussion to Address Prosecutorial Error and Misconduct

Posted: March 28, 2012 11:30 am





Tags: Texas

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New York Times Reports on Kerry Max Cook

Posted: April 2, 2012 1:00 pm





Tags: Texas

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NBC Spotlights Police Lineup Reform

Posted: April 4, 2012 4:30 pm





Tags: Texas, Timothy Cole

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Texas Prosecutors Who Engage in Misconduct Go Undisciplined

Posted: April 5, 2012 5:30 pm





Tags: Texas, Government Misconduct, Michael Morton

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Three More Dallas County Men Cleared

Posted: April 9, 2012 4:36 pm





Tags: Texas

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Science Thursday - May 3, 2012

Posted: May 3, 2012 12:30 pm





Tags: Alabama, Texas

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Hank Skinner's Fight for DNA Testing Continues

Posted: May 4, 2012 3:30 pm





Tags: Texas, Hank Skinner

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Errant Prosecutors Seldom Held to Account

Posted: May 7, 2012 2:00 pm





Tags: Texas, Government Misconduct, Michael Morton

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Investigation Reveals Texas Likely Executed An Innocent Man, Points to Eyewitness Misidentification

Posted: May 16, 2012 1:50 pm





Tags: Texas, Eyewitness Misidentification, Death Penalty, Other Cases

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Texas Judge Moved to Posthumously Exonerate Cameron Todd Willingham

Posted: May 21, 2012 5:20 pm

Texas District Court Judge Charlie Baird was planning to posthumously exonerate Cameron Todd Willingham in 2010 before the order was stopped by a higher court, the Huffington Post reports. Willingham was executed in Texas in 2004 for the deaths of his three young daughters in a house fire.
 
Throughout his incarceration, Willingham consistently maintained his innocence—even refusing a plea deal that would have spared his life—and multiple forensic experts have since come forward to debunk the scientific validity of the arson investigators who claimed that the fire had been deliberately set with liquid accelerant. That testimony, along with a jailhouse informant who claimed that Willingham had confessed to him, served as the only evidence against him.
 
Baird’s proposed order drew upon findings in a report filed by renowned arson expert Gerald Hurst, stating that the investigators were wrong and the fire had been set accidentally.


"You can't do anything for Willingham except clear his name," Baird told The Huffington Post. "When they tried Willingham, I'm convinced that everyone worked in good faith. The problem is that up until the execution, everything had changed so dramatically that you realized the science relied upon at trial was not reliable enough to take a man's life."
 
Ultimately, Baird’s proposed order never became official, as it was ruled that he did not have authority to examine the capital case. Says Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck, "It's an awful shame that this opinion was sitting in his desk gathering dust and nobody could see it…This opinion will stand the test of time, because it faces the facts."

The Willingham case was also reviewed by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which issued its report last year. The Commission called for an investigation into possible wrongful convictions in other arson cases statewide. Willingham’s family continues to push for a pardon that would clear his name.
 
Read the whole article.
 
Read more about Cameron Todd Willingham’s case.
 
Read coverage of the Texas Forensic Science Commission report.



Tags: Texas, Cameron Todd Willingham

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Former Texas Governor Urges Reform to Prevent Executing Innocent People

Posted: May 25, 2012 1:20 pm

Recent news of the possible wrongful execution of Texas inmate Carlos DeLuna has caught the attention of former Texas governor Mark White, who oversaw 19 executions while in office. White has become an unlikely proponent of the case for DeLuna’s innocence. In a recent Houston Chronicle op-ed, White urged Texas to improve its criminal justice system to prevent innocent people from going to prison, or even worse, being executed.


While Texas has certainly taken some steps forward since 1989 with regard to eyewitness identification reform and other innocence-related issues, the problems that plagued DeLuna's case continue to plague criminal - including capital - convictions in our state and across the nation. DeLuna's case should give us all pause as we realize that the possibility of executing an innocent individual is very real. And it should strengthen our resolve to ensure that convictions, particularly capital convictions, are accurate.
 
If we are going to continue to execute individuals, we must be absolutely certain of those individuals' guilt. Texas must implement best practices when it comes to criminal investigations and trials.

White hails the passage of an eyewitness identification reform bill but says Texas must go further and continue to improve all aspects of the justice system including providing adequate defense counsel for the poor, improving crime labs procedures and preventing government misconduct.

I continue to believe some crimes are so heinous, some actions so abhorrent, that society is justified in demanding the perpetrator's life be forfeit. But I also believe if Texas is going to continue to impose the death penalty, we must take every possible precaution to ensure there is never another Carlos DeLuna.

Read the full op-ed.



Tags: Texas

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Streamlining Capital Punishment Endangers the Innocent

Posted: June 1, 2012 4:40 pm

This fall, residents of California will vote on an initiative to abolish capital punishment in the state. Proponents of the abolition argue that capital punishment is far too costly; opponents argue that the costs could be drastically decreased by streamlining the system. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, James Liebman argues that streamlining the process of capital punishment increases the risks of executing an innocent person.
 
Liebman is the co-author of a recent Columbia Human Rights Law Review report challenging the conviction of Carlos DeLuna, a young Latino man, who was executed by the state of Texas in 1989 for the murder of Wanda Lopez. The report highlights systemic flaws in the criminal justice system that assisted in securing DeLuna’s conviction. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the case was the speed with which it advanced through the court system. The process—from arrest to execution—took only six years.
 
From the time of his arrest, DeLuna consistently maintained his innocence, and even gave the name of the man who he saw commit the crime: Carlos Hernandez. This claim was dismissed entirely, with a federal judge concluding that Hernandez had likely never existed. With further investigation—and therefore more time and money—police would have discovered that Hernandez was not only real, but a violent felon who was well-known to the police. Writes Liebman:


“DeLuna's case disproves the myth that we can save the death penalty by generating more ‘quick and dirty’ executions. The death penalty is broken. At great effort and expense, states such as California have tried every measure to fix it, but they have failed. The only solution is to end it.”

Read the full article.
 
Read more about the DeLuna case.
 
Read about cases of people exonerated through DNA testing who served time on death row.



Tags: California, Texas

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Texas Exonerees Launch Support Services Program

Posted: July 5, 2012 2:50 pm

Photo: Thomas McGowan, left, and James Waller.
 
James Waller, Billy James Smith, Johnnie Lindsey and Thomas McGowan have recently launched the Exonerated Brothers of Texas, a nonprofit group that provides support services to at-risk youth and exonerees. Texas has 44 DNA exonerations, more than any other state, with the majority coming from Dallas County.
 
All four men were cleared through DNA testing and released after at least a decade behind bars. The group’s president, James Waller, spent ten years in prison and 14 years on parole as a registered sex offender before his exoneration in March 2007. The Texas Monthly wrote about his motivation to create the group:


Exonerated Brothers of Texas will focus on things like counseling, family services, and job and vocational training. Mostly, though, its goal is to let the exoneree know he’s not alone. “Our purpose is to be there when they walk out and then later for support and counseling—because they’re going to need some counseling. When you’ve been gone from society for a long time, things are different. We’re trying to help guys getting out and trying to help guys who don’t want to go back.”

Sometimes, the newly exonerated person may even be a friend or acquaintance from prison—some even shared a cell or lived in the same wing. No one knows what they endured, and what they need, better than another exoneree.
 
To learn more about the Exonerated Brothers of Texas, book them for a speaking engagement, or donate.
 
Read the full Texas Monthly article.
 
Read more about exonerees who served time together in prison in “A Little Help from their Friends” in the Winter 2007 issue of The Innocence Project In Print.



Tags: Texas

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Prosecutorial Error Common in TX Wrongful Conviction Cases

Posted: July 6, 2012 3:00 pm

A Texas Tribune investigation analyzed 86 cases of wrongful conviction in Texas and found that 21—or 25%--involved prosecutorial error.
 
The article features the tragic case of Debbie Loveless and John Miller who were wrongfully convicted of murdering their four-year-old daughter who died from a dog attack. Prosecutors allegedly suppressed autopsy photos that clearly showed a paw print mark and dog hairs on the child’s body. Prosecutors argued that the couple had used a curling iron and a hunting knife to make it look like a dog attack.  Loveless and Miller spent four years in prison before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the convictions. The Texas Tribune reports:


Despite the decades that innocent men and women have lost behind bars, none of the prosecutors involved were publicly disciplined.

“We have a good set of disciplinary rules on paper,” said Robert Schuwerk, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center who served on the committee that wrote the Texas Disciplinary Rule of Professional Conduct. “The question is, is anybody going to enforce them?”

The Innocence Project and partners have launched a nationwide tour to explore policy reforms to prevent misconduct. In March, the tour stopped at the University of Texas Law School in Austin and featured Texas exoneree Michael Morton who was wrongfully convicted for the murder of his wife and whose prosecutor now faces a Court of Inquiry to determine whether he contributed to the injustice by concealing evidence from the defense.  
 
Read the full article.
 
Read more about the Prosecutorial Oversight Tour.
 
Read more about prosecutorial misconduct in Texas.



Tags: Texas

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Texas Tribune Examines Prosecutorial Misconduct

Posted: July 10, 2012 1:20 pm

The second installment of the Texas Tribune’s series that explores the causes and consequences of prosecutorial errors calls for reforms in the wake of wrongful convictions attributed to prosecutorial misconduct.
 
Michael Morton spent 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife before DNA testing of crime scene evidence proved his innocence and identified a convicted offender in the national DNA databank as perpetrator. Upon his release, Morton’s attorneys recommended a Court of Inquiry to investigate possible misconduct committed by Ken Anderson, the former Williamson County District Attorney who prosecuted Morton. Morton is also urging legislators to implement new laws that hold prosecutors accountable for misconduct, according to the Texas Tribune.


“I can’t make up for those lost years, but what I can do is prevent what happened to me from happening to someone else,” he says.

The Tribune conducted a study of 86 cases of wrongful conviction in Texas and found that 21—or 25%—involved prosecutorial error. And in 17 of those 21, the courts ruled that exculpatory evidence was not given to defense lawyers.
 
According to Betty Blackwell, an Austin criminal defense lawyer and Chair of the State Bar Commission for Lawyer Discipline, the bar can only take action if a person knew it was exculpatory evidence and still withheld it. And on the rare occasion the agency determines that a prosecutor engaged in misconduct, disciplinary measures are often handed out privately. The investigation against Anderson was made public.
 
In an attempt to prevent prosecutorial errors and improve accountability for intentional violations, the American Bar Association recommends reciprocal open discovery between the defense and prosecutors.
 
Meanwhile, Morton remains optimistic as he awaits the September Court of Inquiry that will determine whether Anderson faces criminal charges for his role in the wrongful conviction.

If prosecutors knew they could face consequences for their mistakes, like a fine or the risk of losing their law license, Morton says, they would play fair in the courtroom.
 
“I just can’t imagine this coming to naught,” he says. “Something’s going to happen. I’m confident of it.

Read the full article.
 
Read the first installment of the Tribune series.
 
Read more about prosecutorial misconduct in Texas.



Tags: Texas, Michael Morton

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Clearing up the Disparity in Texas Exonerations from County to County

Posted: July 24, 2012 3:55 pm

This week, Texas news outlets have presented differing perspectives on why Dallas County has exonerated so many more people through DNA testing than neighboring Tarrant County. Texas leads the nation in DNA exonerations, and many of the innocent prisoners that have been vindicated were wrongfully convicted in Dallas County. The Dallas Observer reports:


A Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial published this weekend concludes that Tarrant County has not exonerated nearly as many innocent prisoners as Dallas County simply because it did not wrongfully incarcerate them in the first place. This black-and-white view is too simple for what's become a thorny issue across the state.

The Dallas Observer blog post explains that the reason for the discrepancy of DNA exonerations between Dallas County and the rest of the state is that Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins has been committed to freeing the innocent. Mike Ware, a Fort Worth criminal defense attorney who led the Conviction Integrity Unit in the Dallas County District Attorney's office until last year, attributes Dallas County’s exonerations to its aggressive stance on ordering DNA testing in cases deemed inconclusive. Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas agrees. According to the Dallas Observer:

It's "simply not the culture" elsewhere, he says. And because of that, lawyers are more prone to take on innocence cases in Dallas. Such cases take a tremendous amount of time and money, and that currency goes a lot farther here, where hurdles to testing are far less challenging than elsewhere in Texas.
 
Blackburn doesn't see Tarrant County as being any better or worse in terms of wrongful convictions than most other District Attorney's offices around the state. Dallas is simply an outlier in that the evidence was preserved and Watkins has made it a major priority to free the innocent.

Read the full blog.
 
Read the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s editorial.
 
Search the profiles of Texas DNA exonerees.
 



Tags: Texas

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Science Thursday - July 26, 2012

Posted: July 26, 2012 7:40 pm

Lawyers and Judges consider the “CSI effect” in Ohio, a Texas analyst is being sued for misrepresenting the results of a drug test, and problems at a Minnesota lab cast doubt on thousands of cases. Here’s this week’s round up of forensic news:
 
Lawyers and judges in Ohio discuss whether there is a “CSI effect” altering jurors expectations
 
The Texas analyst handling most of the drug testing for the Dallas County family courts system faces a lawsuit from a father involved a custody dispute who alleges that the analyst misrepresented the results of a drug test.
 
Problems at the St. Paul Police Department Crime Laboratory have cast doubt on forensic results in thousands of cases.



Tags: Minnesota, Ohio, Texas, Science Thursday

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Science Thursday - August 16, 2012

Posted: August 16, 2012 4:20 am

Texas reviews previous arson cases and a prosecutor in New York City launches a cybercrime lab in his office. Here’s this week’s round up of forensic news:
 
An ongoing Texas arson review has revealed a number of cases where flawed forensic science may have lead to wrongful arson convictions.
 
The Manhattan District Attorney has announced the construction of a cybercrime lab to be housed in the district attorney’s office and staffed by computer forensic staff members, specialized prosecutors, analysts and investigators. The lab is scheduled to be up and running by late 2013.
 
Researchers in China have developed an electrochemiluminesence (ECL) technique to reveal fingerprints on items of evidence. Unlike current techniques of gathering fingerprints, the ECL technique will not affect the integrity of the print.
 
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed a new reference standard for ballistics that can help lab technicians verify that their equipment is calibrated and functioning properly, validate their methodology, and demonstrate that their work is traceable to an authoritative national standard.



Tags: Texas, New York, Science Thursday

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DNA Clears Texas Man of Rape

Posted: August 21, 2012 12:00 pm

A Fort Worth man who was sentenced to life in prison for a rape that DNA evidence now proves he did not commit is expected to be released on Friday. David Lee Wiggins has spent more than two decades in prison for the 1988 rape of a 14-year-old girl and was convicted by a Tarrant County jury largely based on the victim’s identification.
 
Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Nina Morrison filed a motion for post-conviction DNA testing in 2007 but earlier attempts at testing were inconclusive. At the urging of the Innocence Project, more sophisticated testing was done on the victim’s clothing earlier this month, and the lab that conducted the testing excluded Wiggins as a donor. A press release from the district attorney’s office has requested Wiggins be immediately returned to Tarrant County and released on bond.


"If current state-of-the art DNA testing had been available in 1989, there is no doubt Mr. Wiggins would have been acquitted," District Attorney Joe Shannon said in the news release. "We will continue to cooperate with legitimate requests for post-conviction testing. The job of this office is not just to convict, but to see that justice is done."

The hearing is scheduled for Friday at 11:00 am in the 213th District Court.
 
Read the full article.
 
Read more about the case.



Tags: Texas, David Wiggins

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Texas Man Released From Prison After 24 Years

Posted: August 24, 2012 3:00 pm

David Wiggins was released from prison today after a Tarrant County judge vacated his 1989 rape conviction based on DNA evidence that proves his innocence. Wiggins was convicted largely based on the victim’s identification and served 24 years behind bars.
 
The Tarrant County District Attorney’s office fully cooperated with the Innocence Project, consented to testing and opened their files to reinvestigate the crime. Wiggins always maintained his innocence and even filed an unsuccessful pro se motion seeking DNA testing before his trial, though DNA technology had just been introduced in criminal cases at that time. Although earlier rounds of testing were inconclusive, the Innocence Project was able to secure testing earlier this month that definitively excludes Wiggins as the source of sperm found on clothing the defendant was wearing at the time of the attack.
 
He was joined in court this morning by his family, friends and other local exonerees.
 
Coverage about the case here and here.



Tags: Texas, David Wiggins

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Wiggins and Family Speak about His Ordeal

Posted: August 27, 2012 4:15 pm

Watch David Lee Wiggins address the crowd at a Fort Worth, Texas, press conference following his release from prison on Friday after DNA testing proved him innocent of a 1988 rape.
 
“Faith will move mountains,” Wiggins said. “And surely this was a mountain I needed moved.”
 
Watch here.
 
For more about Wiggins case.



Tags: Texas, David Wiggins

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The Trial of David Lee Wiggins

Posted: August 28, 2012 5:00 pm

By Karen Newirth, Eyewitness Identification Litigation Fellow
 
Last week, 24 years after a misidentification led to his wrongful conviction for rape, David Wiggins was declared innocent by a Texas judge and freed from prison. As Laura Smalarz explained in “The Misidentification of David Lee Wiggins,” this wrongful conviction may have resulted from police use of faulty lineup procedures that undermined the reliability and accuracy of the identification. But problems with the lineup procedures tell only half the story: the identification evidence in the Wiggins case made its way through the criminal justice system into the trial courtroom to be heard by a jury. In other words, none of the legal safeguards that are supposed to protect against the admission of unreliable identification evidence succeeded in filtering out evidence in the Wiggins case.
 
The general failure of legal safeguards to keep bad evidence out of courtrooms is more the rule than the exception. An analysis of trial records from the first 250 DNA exonerations reveals weaknesses in eyewitness evidence, such as suggestibility of the procedure, in a full 88% of eyewitness misidentification cases. In all of these cases, the identification evidence was nevertheless admitted and the defendant wrongly convicted.
 
What is perhaps most striking about Wiggins’ trial is his attorney’s failure to attack the eyewitness identification evidence. Indeed, it was Wiggins himself (and not his attorney) who filed a motion to suppress the witness’ identification on the grounds that “the identification procedure utilized was so impermissibly suggestive that it induced witnesses to identify the defendant.” Wiggins even filed a second motion seeking to suppress the witness’ identification based on “unfair” police influence. Despite Wiggins’ repeated attempts to challenge the identification, his lawyer raised no formal challenge to the identification procedure and when the time came for him to argue the facts to the court, Wiggins’ attorney simply passed.
 
Wiggins’ conviction highlights another common problem: cross examination and other legal tactics fail to uncover the unreliability of an eyewitness’ identification. The vast majority of eyewitnesses are not telling lies that can be revealed by skillful lawyering. They are generally convinced of the truth of their testimony. Judges and jurors can rarely differentiate between accurate and inaccurate eyewitness testimony, particularly after the witness has been subjected to suggestive procedures.
 
Finally, juries respond powerfully to eyewitness certainty, erroneously equating certainty with accuracy. Scientific research proves this, and trial lawyers know it to be true. That’s why the Innocence Project urges that courts make special tools – such as expert testimony and enhanced jury instructions – available in eyewitness identification cases. Courts across the country—most recently the Connecticut Supreme Court—are beginning to expand the availability of expert testimony for defendants in these cases and to consider whether traditional jury instructions should be replaced with comprehensive, science-based jury instructions.
 
David Lee Wiggins’ exoneration was a wonderful, powerful moment for all of us here at the Innocence Project, but his 24 years of wrongful incarceration also served as a reminder of the high stakes involved in eyewitness identification reform. The criminal justice system failed Wiggins at every turn—when a suggestive identification procedure led to his arrest, and later, when faulty eyewitness evidence made its way to the courtroom.



Tags: Texas, David Wiggins

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Michael Morton Speaks About Wrongful Conviction, Advocates Reform

Posted: September 5, 2012 5:05 pm

For the first time since DNA testing proved Michael Morton innocent of the murder of his wife and identified a convicted offender as the perpetrator, he gave his first public speaking presentation to the Longview Greggton Rotary Club in Texas on Friday. Morton spoke about his wrongful conviction, the separation from his young son and his 25-year fight for exoneration. He is urging legislators to implement new laws that hold prosecutors accountable for misconduct and encouraged members of the Rotary Club to join the fight, according to the Longview News-Journal.


“I am rebuilding my life, and I can unequivocally assure you that life is good, it is very good,” Morton said. “I want to make sure that what happened to me does not happen to you.”
 

 
“I can’t get my 25 years back; there is nothing I can do to change it. I can’t bring my wife up out of the ground. I can’t re-establish every single thing I lost with my son, but we can do something,” Morton said.
 
“Little tweaks” in the judicial and bar systems could greatly encourage district attorneys not to bury evidence, Morton said.

Like Morton, other exonerees are out speaking about the issues that matter to them to schools, civic organizations, churches, and other venues nationwide. The Innocence Project believes that the personal stories of the exonerated provide the most compelling introduction to the problems of wrongful conviction. The Exoneree Speakers’ Bureau is made up of former Innocence Project clients who have become accomplished public speakers motivated by their desire to prevent future injustice.
 
Read the full article.
 
To book an exoneree speaker or learn more about the Exoneree Speakers’ Bureau, click here.
 
Read more about Morton’s case.



Tags: Texas, Michael Morton

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Texas Police Departments to Be Graded on Lineup Policies

Posted: September 12, 2012 9:45 am





Tags: Texas, Eyewitness Misidentification

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San Antonio Express-News Joins Prosecutorial Misconduct Dialogue

Posted: September 19, 2012 5:35 pm

An editorial in Tuesday’s San Antonio Express-News welcomes the public discussion over wrongful prosecution in Texas criminal cases that heated up last week when the Texas District and County Attorney Association issued a report on prosecutorial misconduct that mischaracterized data released by the Prosecutorial Oversight Coalition (that includes the Innocence Project).
 
The Prosecutorial Oversight Coalition released data about 91 court findings of prosecutorial misconduct between 2004 – 2008 in Texas in advance of a forum in Austin on the issue in March 2012. When releasing the data, the coalition acknowledged that the data was not a final report and cautioned that the lack of transparency and accountability on the issue made it extremely difficult to provide data fully illustrating the problem. The purpose of the forum was to spark a conversation with prosecutors and other policymakers about the role of prosecutorial misconduct in wrongful convictions and systemic solutions to the problem.
 
The San Antonio Express-News writes:


Recent high-profile cases involving Texas death row inmates have focused much-needed attention on the way the state's criminal justice system operates.
 
If prosecutors feel defensive and feel as if they are under attack, that's understandable. But no one is saying there has been widespread or rampant intentional prosecutorial misconduct over the years.
 
A close look at the Innocence Project data indicates courts made 91 findings of error during the five-year review period. The findings were deemed harmless in 72 of those cases.
 
Considering the high number of criminal cases that go through the criminal justice system each year, that is a relatively low number, but even one case in which one defendant has been wrongfully convicted based on a prosecutor's conduct is one too many.
 
While it is easy to become defensive and downplay the merits of adverse findings, we are encouraged to see acknowledgment of past problems and steps being taken to correct them.
 
There are many lessons to be learned to keep history from repeating itself.

Read the full editorial.
 
Read the Innocence Project’s press release responding to “Setting the Record Straight on Prosecutorial Misconduct.”



Tags: Texas, Government Misconduct

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Science Thursday - September 27, 2012

Posted: September 27, 2012 5:45 pm

Colorado develops a new forensic science research center, crime labs in Texas are overcoming backlog, and experts suggest caution with testimony on fingerprint evidence. Here’s this week’s round up of forensic news:
 
The St. Paul crime lab in Minnesota, which suspended drug testing in July for lack of protocols, is now under scrutiny for similar issues with its fingerprint analysis. Currently the lab has “no standard operating procedures or formal protocols” that guide how fingerprints are analyzed.
 
To overcome a backlog of forensic evidence at state crime labs, the Texas Department of Public Safety will prioritize the testing of drug and blood-alcohol evidence in felony cases. As a result, crime labs will only analyze drug and blood-alcohol evidence for misdemeanors if a prosecutor requests a lab report.
 
The Colorado Mesa University continues building a new Forensic Investigation Research Station that will house research space, labs and classrooms. The new facility, the fifth of its kind in the country, will conduct original forensic research including decomposition.
 
Various legal and science experts across the country are examining the limits of using fingerprint evidence in court. As studies are only underway to determine how fingerprints vary within populations, experts suggest that testimony should not guarantee accuracy, provide statistics, or comment on print uniqueness as of yet.
 
Though the FBI adopted new Rapid DNA technology that allows DNA field testing, it will be some time before it passes National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standards and can be used by public law enforcement. Additionally, the DNA Identification Act of 1994, which only allows accredited labs to test DNA, does not extend to the new technology.



Tags: Colorado, Minnesota, Texas, Science Thursday

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Michael Morton Celebrates One Year of Freedom

Posted: October 5, 2012 11:25 am





Tags: Texas, Michael Morton

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Texas Arson Cases Reviewed for Wrongful Convictions

Posted: October 9, 2012 5:30 pm





Tags: Texas, Cameron Todd Willingham

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Texas Monthly Reports on Morton

Posted: October 12, 2012 11:50 am





Tags: Texas, Michael Morton

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Petition for Cameron Todd Willingham's Posthumous Pardon

Posted: October 24, 2012 2:55 pm





Tags: Texas, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics, Cameron Todd Willingham

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Death Row Exoneree Supports Willingham Pardon Petition

Posted: October 25, 2012 5:30 pm





Tags: Texas, Cameron Todd Willingham

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Tune In: Michael Morton Featured on Katie Couric

Posted: November 12, 2012 11:30 am





Tags: Texas, Michael Morton

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Prosecutorial Accountability in the Michael Morton Case

Posted: November 13, 2012 5:00 pm





Tags: Texas, Michael Morton

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My Work On the Michael Morton Case

Posted: November 14, 2012 2:20 pm





Tags: Texas, Michael Morton

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Science Thursday - November 15, 2012

Posted: November 15, 2012 9:00 pm





Tags: Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas

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Texas Considers Recording of Interrogations Legislation

Posted: December 5, 2012 5:30 pm





Tags: Texas

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Science Thursday - December 13, 2012

Posted: December 13, 2012 12:15 pm





Tags: Massachusetts, Minnesota, Texas, New York, Science Thursday

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Science Thursday - December 20, 2012

Posted: December 20, 2012 2:00 pm





Tags: North Carolina, Massachusetts, Michigan, Texas, Science Thursday

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Dallas Morning News Honors Two Exonerees as "Texans of the Year"

Posted: January 4, 2013 5:00 pm





Tags: Texas, Michael Morton

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Science Thursday - January 10, 2013

Posted: January 10, 2013 4:30 pm





Tags: Ohio, Texas, Science Thursday

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Dallas Morning News Stresses Importance of Arson Review

Posted: January 10, 2013 4:50 pm





Tags: Texas, Forensic Oversight, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics, Cameron Todd Willingham

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Texas Arson Case to be Reviewed Today

Posted: January 11, 2013 6:05 pm





Tags: Texas

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Innocence Project Seeks DNA Testing For Texas Death Row Inmate

Posted: January 17, 2013 5:25 pm





Tags: Texas, Death Penalty, Larry Swearingen

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Dallas DA Introduces 'Racial Justice Act'

Posted: January 22, 2013 5:30 pm





Tags: Texas, Racial Bias

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A Human Tragedy: Exploring the Stories of 24 Exonerees

Posted: January 24, 2013 6:00 pm





Tags: Texas, Timothy Cole, Michael Morton

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Houston Chronicle Calls for DNA Testing in Death Row Case

Posted: January 30, 2013 2:15 pm





Tags: Texas, Death Penalty, Larry Swearingen

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Execution Stayed in Texas

Posted: January 31, 2013 2:40 pm





Tags: Texas, Death Penalty, Larry Swearingen

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Science Thursday - January 31, 2013

Posted: January 31, 2013 6:25 pm





Tags: District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Texas, Science Thursday

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Court of Inquiry Begins Today in Morton Case

Posted: February 4, 2013 1:25 pm





Tags: Texas, Government Misconduct, Michael Morton

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Science Thursday - February 7, 2013

Posted: February 7, 2013 1:40 pm





Tags: North Carolina, Massachusetts, Texas, New York, Science Thursday

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Texas Man Cleared of Murder After DNA Proves Innocence, Implicates Another Man

Posted: February 11, 2013 6:00 pm





Tags: Texas

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Female Exoneree Featured on The Ricki Lake Show

Posted: February 20, 2013 12:15 pm





Tags: Texas

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Science Thursday - February 28, 2013

Posted: February 28, 2013 4:10 pm





Tags: Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Texas, Vermont, Science Thursday

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Book About Texas DNA Exonerees Featured in Breakfast Series

Posted: March 1, 2013 2:15 pm





Tags: Texas

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Science Thursday - March 7, 2013

Posted: March 7, 2013 11:50 am





Tags: District of Columbia, Minnesota, Ohio, Texas, Science Thursday

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Michael Morton Documentary Premieres at SXSW Festival

Posted: March 8, 2013 3:15 pm





Tags: Texas, Michael Morton

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Texas Exoneree Michael Morton Weds, Asks Guests to Donate to the Innocence Project

Posted: March 11, 2013 5:00 pm





Tags: Texas, Michael Morton

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Six Texas Arson Cases to Be Reviewed

Posted: March 21, 2013 4:30 pm





Tags: Texas, Cameron Todd Willingham

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Science News - March 28, 2013

Posted: March 28, 2013 1:50 pm





Tags: California, Ohio, Texas, Science Thursday

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Highlights of Wrongful Conviction Reporting

Posted: March 28, 2013 4:25 pm





Tags: Texas, Damon Thibodeaux, Michael Morton, Cameron Todd Willingham

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Innocence Network Week in Review: March 29, 2013

Posted: March 29, 2013 3:25 pm





Tags: California, North Carolina, Illinois, Texas, Innocence Network

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Passover and the Innocence Project

Posted: April 1, 2013 11:10 am





Tags: Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Marvin Anderson, Damon Thibodeaux, Michael Morton

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Arizona Arson Case Overturned

Posted: April 3, 2013 5:50 pm





Tags: Arizona, Texas

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Science News - April 11, 2013

Posted: April 11, 2013 4:05 pm





Tags: Arizona, Kansas, Maine, Texas, Science Thursday

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Dallas County Exonerees Unite to Help Free Other Innocent Prisoners

Posted: April 16, 2013 3:25 pm





Tags: Texas, Johnnie Lindsey, Billy James Smith

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Science News - April 18, 2013

Posted: April 18, 2013 4:10 pm





Tags: California, Massachusetts, Texas, Washington, Science Thursday

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Michael Morton's Prosecutor Will Face Criminal Charges for Withholding Evidence

Posted: April 19, 2013 5:00 pm





Tags: Texas, Government Misconduct, Michael Morton

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Riding for Randy

Posted: April 24, 2013 2:50 pm





Tags: Texas, Randy Arledge, Informants/Snitches

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Texas Considers Discovery Bill on 50th Anniversary of Supreme Court Decision

Posted: May 13, 2013 1:10 pm





Tags: Maryland, Texas, Michael Morton

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Texas Exoneree Third to Marry In Three Months

Posted: May 23, 2013 2:40 pm





Tags: Texas, Randy Arledge, David Wiggins, Michael Morton

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Science News - May 30, 2013

Posted: May 30, 2013 4:25 pm





Tags: Louisiana, Massachusetts, Texas

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Implications of a Supreme Court Ruling for False Confessions

Posted: June 20, 2013 1:30 pm





Tags: Pennsylvania, Texas, Nicholas Yarris

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60 Minutes Features Michael Morton

Posted: June 24, 2013 5:00 pm





Tags: Texas, Government Misconduct, Michael Morton

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Science News - August 1, 2013

Posted: August 1, 2013 5:30 pm





Tags: Texas, Virginia, New York, Science Thursday

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Science News - August 8, 2013

Posted: August 8, 2013 6:00 pm





Tags: Ohio, Texas, Science Thursday

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Nine Experts Chosen to Restore Houston Forensic Lab

Posted: August 9, 2013 11:20 am





Tags: Texas, Forensic Oversight, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics

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TFSC to Review Microscopic Hair Convictions

Posted: August 12, 2013 5:50 pm





Tags: Texas, Forensic Oversight

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Texas State Bar Association Seeks to Discipline Michael Morton's Prosecutor

Posted: September 3, 2013 2:00 pm





Tags: Texas, Government Misconduct, Michael Morton

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A Place of Their Own

Posted: September 24, 2013 3:00 pm





Tags: Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Texas, New York, Jeff Deskovic, Rickie Johnson, Michael Saunders, Damon Thibodeaux, David Wiggins, Exoneree Compensation

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Michael Morton Prosecutor Resigns

Posted: September 24, 2013 6:05 pm





Tags: Texas, Michael Morton

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Cameron Todd Willingham's Surviving Relatives Request Posthumous Pardon Investigation

Posted: September 27, 2013 3:55 pm





Tags: Texas, Death Penalty, Cameron Todd Willingham

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Another Texas Arson Case under Investigation

Posted: October 1, 2013 4:00 pm





Tags: Texas

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Dallas Morning News Calls for Investigation of Posthumous Pardon Application

Posted: October 7, 2013





Tags: Texas, Death Penalty, Cameron Todd Willingham

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Time to Change the Clemency Process in Texas

Posted: October 17, 2013 2:25 pm





Tags: Texas, Death Penalty, Michael Morton, Cameron Todd Willingham

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Texas Exoneree Honors Attorney, Establishes Law School Scholarship

Posted: October 18, 2013 4:00 pm





Tags: Texas

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The Role of Faulty Science in Death Row Case

Posted: October 31, 2013 4:00 am





Tags: Texas, Forensic Oversight, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics, Death Penalty

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Three of 'San Antonio Four' Expected to be Released

Posted: November 18, 2013 4:15 pm





Tags: Texas

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Tune-In: CNN Films Premieres An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story

Posted: December 4, 2013 3:10 pm





Tags: Texas, Michael Morton

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Texas State Fire Marshall is Commended for Transforming State's Law Enforcement

Posted: December 5, 2013 5:35 pm





Tags: Texas, Forensic Oversight

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Hair Analysis Underway in Texas

Posted: January 14, 2014 4:05 pm





Tags: Texas, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics

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New Law Gives Texas Exoneree Chance to Hold Former DA Accountable

Posted: January 21, 2014 4:05 pm





Tags: Texas

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Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Denies DNA Testing in Death Row Case

Posted: February 10, 2014 2:55 pm





Tags: Texas

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New Evidence Emerges in Texas Wrongful Execution Case

Posted: February 28, 2014 5:00 pm





Tags: Texas, Death Penalty, Cameron Todd Willingham

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'Timely Justice' and Cameron Todd Willingham

Posted: March 6, 2014 5:45 pm





Tags: Texas, Death Penalty, Cameron Todd Willingham

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CBS Crimesider Features Two Stories of Compensation for Wrongfully Convicted

Posted: March 27, 2014 2:45 am





Tags: Texas, New York, Exoneree Compensation, Marty Tankleff

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Innocent Defendants Plead Guilty in Drug Cases

Posted: April 24, 2014 4:30 pm





Tags: Texas

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