I attended a press conference at the capitol this a.m. where The Justice Project announced the release of:
a new report on Texas wrongful convictions exposed by DNA evidence. Convicting the Innocent: Texas Justice Derailed presents the cases of thirty-nine innocent men who served over 500 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. The report also highlights key reforms Texas must implement to address the flawed evidence and systemic problems that led to these mistakes.
The report finds that "eyewitness misidentification is by far the leading factor in wrongful convictions in Texas." According to the press release:
the cases of thirty-nine innocent Texans who collectively spent more than five hundred years in prison for crimes they did not commit. Convicting the Innocent: Texas Justice Derailed also presents reforms Texas must implement in order to improve the quality of evidence used in criminal cases and reduce the risk of wrongful convictions.
The report details how the devastation these cases have wrought begins with the wrongly convicted, but extends out to the family members, jurors and victims who become embroiled in a terrible injustice. The press conference will feature two jurors from a wrongful conviction case ... and Cory Session , the brother of Timothy Cole, who died in prison before DNA exonerated him. Senator Rodney Ellis will address pending reform legislation that responds directly to the systemic flaws identified in the wrongful conviction cases.
The report analyzes the social costs that result when faulty evidence leads a criminal investigation off track, including the crimes committed by the actual perpetrators following the conviction of the wrong person.
Ironically, by focusing solely on DNA exonerations, such analyses understate the real number of innocent Texans who've been exonerated - 35 were pardoned from the Tulia drug stings, 24 innocents were set up in the Dallas "fake drug" scandal, and another dozen or so were set up by a lying informant in Hearne, an event about which a major motion picture will be released next month.
Add those to the 39 DNA cases the Justice Project examines and the number of recent exonerations easily tops 100. (And it would not be difficult for some law student to spend some quality time on Westlaw to add to the list.)
This Justice Project report represents particularly important work because Texas has refused, for the most part, to undertake any official examination of how these false convictions occurred and what can be done to correct them. In that sense, this publication fills an important gap in the debate.
MORE: See additional coverage from the Houston Chronicle.