Saturday, February 17, 2007

Innocence Project reviewing Dallas DNA in hundreds of cases

Reports the Dallas News ("Innocence Project to review Dallas County convictions," Feb. 16):

The extraordinary number of DNA-based exonerations in Dallas County has led to a unique partnership between prosecutors and advocates for those who may be wrongly convicted.

District Attorney Craig Watkins has agreed to allow the Innocence Project of Texas to review whether DNA tests should be done in any of the cases of 354 people convicted of rapes, murders and other felonies as far back as 1970.

Most of those requests already have been denied by trial court judges on the recommendation of former District Attorney Bill Hill.

In response, Rod Davis at D Magazine's FrontBurner blog says this is an example of
WHY VOTING MATTERS

Under former DA Bill Hill, this never would have happened. We'll never know if Toby Shook would have opened these DNA cases. But we do know that Craig Watkins has.

I've heard a lot of talk over the years about whether focusing on innocence cases is a useful strategy for opposing the death penalty. Bottom line, in the end, I doubt it. But it may be an exceptionally useful electoral strategy for Texas DA candidates running against "tuff" incumbents, now that Craig Watkins has blazed the path. I know Texans want to be tough on crime, but I also think, for the most part, they want to be tough on the right guy.

7 comments:

sunray's wench said...

Whether the anti-death penalty folks use this as muscle or not really isnt important. Innocent people should not be in prison, simple. If there are doubts, they need to be addressed as soon as they become apparent, and those in positions of power should be legally required to review new evidence as soon as it is presented. To just shrug and say they will not look at it is a disgusting abuse of power and show utter contempt for the entire justice system that employs them.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, these DNA motions were litigated in court in front of a judge who ultimately determined, based upon a statute, whether the defendants were entitled to testing. If a defendant was unhappy with those results, he could appeal that decision to another court. If unhappy with the results of the appeal, he could seek review in the Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin. Whether the DA opposed or not is not dispositive by any means. State's responses will show the facts of the case, who was contacted, what evidence still exists, and how that fit into the statute.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

anonymous, With all due respect, so what? If it turns out some of those turned down were innocent, I bet dollars to donuts the law will change to make testing more widely available.

AlanBean said...

Lawyers have a troubling tendency to think that just because they are constrained by the limits of the system the rest of us have to believe the system makes sense. Often, the system is madness--the fact that the Supreme Court etc. have signed off on a practice or a process do not make these the practices and processes fair or moral. If there is DNA evidence, it should be tested. What possible reason could a judge have for denying such a test. And yet the appeals process tends to rubber stamp whatever some capricious judge hath decreed. To the layperson outside the system (that is, your average voter) this looks like madness. So I agree with Scott--justice should not hinge on whether, by some miracle, a particular DA happens to value fairness. The system exists to see that justice is done, and any practice that is inherently unfair undermines the integrity of the system.

Anonymous said...

in response to anonymous, not all of the 354 requests for DNA testing ever made it before a judge...of the 32 requests that did 12 men have been exonerated, another will be exonerated in the next few weeks, 9 had thier guilt affirmed, 5 had inconclusive results and 6 are still pending...those numbers alone are astounding

mary for justice said...

THANK YOU FOR YOUR COMMENTS SUNRAY...Vincent Johnson has spent 35+ years as a wrongfully convicted human being. The justice system does not work for him because those in charge do not read, are busy covering up their mistakes, and refuse to acknowledge the evidence that has been hidden by those in charge. When is enough enough? An affidavit was placed into the court system PCRA and nearly 3 years have passed and the DA has not responded to this sole witness explaining how he lied when he testified that he gave the case to Vincent Johnson. His 2nd Habeas Corpus is now reaching the US Supreme Court for the 2nd time. How much is he supposed to endure???? Mary

Renegade said...

Regarding the second anonymous posting, where in the world did you get the idea that "not all of the 354 requests for DNA testing ever made it before a judge?" Are you talking about a hearing on the merits? Because the postconviction DNA testing statute (Chapter 64) does not allow for any hearing unless the evidence exists and is in testable condition. In the majority of cases, there is no DNA evidence to test, because there never was any. (Ex.-- defendant forced victim to perform oral sex; no biological evidence to test). Further, the statute wastes tax dollars by requiring a judge to appoint an attorney to any defendant who asks for Chapter 64 testing, even in a case where there never was any biological evidence to test.

I think Dallas County is unique among Texas counties because it kept biological evidence for decades, without being required to do so. I sincerely hope that any defendant not guilty of committing the offense in question is able to use the DNA evidence kept by Dallas County to seek justice. However, I also feel that the press should make more noise about the numbers of defendants whose guilt is conclusively affirmed by a positive DNA match.