Thursday, October 08, 2009

Dallas man freed, claiming innocence, after police withheld exculpatory evidence

Dallas could soon witness its second non-DNA exoneration on District Attorney Craig Watkins' watch, the Dallas News reports ("Dallas inmate set to be freed after buried evidence found," Oct. 8):
Dallas County jurors who sent Richard Miles to prison for 40 years never knew another man had been implicated in the same shooting incident.

It took 14 years and detective work by a prisoner advocacy group to unearth reports in police files that suggested others could have committed the murder and attempted murder that sent Miles to prison.

That discovery is set to get Miles released on Monday.

Dallas County prosecutors have agreed to dismiss his 1995 convictions because police failed to turn over exculpatory evidence.

State District Judge Andy Chatham is expected to release Miles on bond pending a final decision from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Miles' defense attorney, Cheryl Wattley, said she was optimistic he would not face a second trial.

The claim that Miles, 34, is innocent is still being investigated by the DA's office.

"We have serious questions as to whether he was convicted of a crime that was committed by someone else," said Mike Ware, who oversees the DA's conviction integrity unit.

Miles was convicted in the May 1994 shootings of Deandre Williams and Robert Ray Johnson Jr. near a gas station in the Bachman Lake area. Both men were shot multiple times while sitting in a car. Williams died. Johnson lived but was permanently disabled.

If Miles is exonerated, he would be the second man District Attorney Craig Watkins has agreed was wrongly convicted in cases that did not involve DNA evidence.

Miles would be at least the sixth Dallas County inmate in the last two years to have his conviction voided because exculpatory evidence was not disclosed.
Many kudos to Centurion Ministries for digging into this case and discovering the exculpatory evidence concealed way back in 1995. Excellent work! Watkins and his Conviction Integrity Unit chief Mike Ware also deserve a lot of credit for owning up to past mistakes and trying to make things right.

Speaking of prosecutors, if six times in the last two years convictions in Dallas were voided because exculpatory evidence wasn't disclosed, I'm curious how many of the prosecutors involved were disciplined as a result by the state bar? Wanna bet the answer is "zero"? (Perhaps the Dallas News reporters can let us know that tidbit in a followup report or on the paper's Crime Blog.)

Finally, it's worth mentioning there have been other non-DNA exonerations in Dallas before Craig Watkins arrived on the scene, most notably the two-dozen people falsely convicted in the Dallas fake-drug scandal, who were victimized by mendacious informants and corrupt police officers.

Indeed, I've always said that DNA exonerations are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the number of innocent people sitting in prison. Biological evidence only exists in about 10% of violent crimes in the first place, and even then, in most older cases, the evidence hasn't been preserved. By contrast, faulty eyewitnesses, lying informants, junk science, and unethical police, to name a few examples, can crop up in all types of cases.

The DNA exonerations open up a valuable window onto the causes of false convictions, the same way a pollster gains insight into public opinion by sampling a small number of voters, etc.. But Richard Miles' case reminds us that it's important to look beyond DNA exonerees when discussing "innocence" in the justice system. They represent just a small number of what's almost certainly a much larger group of innocent people currently incarcerated.

18 comments:

Karo said...

When you write that the exoneration occurred on "Craig Watkins' watch" it seems like you are saying that he, or someone he hired, was responsible for the wrongful conviction. I'm pretty sure that's not what you intended but that's just the feel I get when reading that first sentence.

I don't want to criticize; just giving feedback.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

No, I'm definitely saying the EXONERATION happened on his watch. Virtually all of the exonerees, whether or not their cases had DNA evidence, were convicted under previous regimes.

Anonymous said...

First of all Karo, what do you care? You probably think the cops did the right thing.

And second, only you read it that way.

Karo said...

I care because I support the reforms ushered in by Mr. Watkins and hope he gets re-elected. He had some friction with other power-players in Dallas politics and I hope that doesn't cost him.

Anonymous person I don't particularly care for cops, but that’s none of your business. I guess I should have sent my feedback in email so you could save your insults for someone else.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand your gratuitous cheap shot against prosecutors? The article stated that the police failed to turn over the information. Was there some information I missed that said that the DA's office was furnished this information by the police and failed to disclose it? You're going to deter a lot of good and decent lawyers from entering the prosecution profession if you're going to start having the bar sanction them for failing to disclose information they were never furnished by the police. Guess it never occurred to you that the police might either intentionally or unintentionally withold information from the the DA's office.

Faceless Man said...

Prosecutors should be held to that standard 3:56, or at a minimum, not be able to hide behind their official position when it is found they misbehaved intentionally.

Frankly, if someone isn't willing to live up to that, they have no business in that profession.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

3:56, they've discovered 6 incidents of Brady violations in the last two years that led to exonerations in just that one office. Presumably some of those were prosecutors who deserve sanction.

Anonymous said...

Plus, prosecutors have a duty to investigate and at least look through the police files. They have access to things that Defense lawyers will ever get to see because of the Blue Wall.

Both the cops and the prosecutors are at fault in this one.

What will be truly interesting in some of these cases is whether or not the defense lawyers asked the cops on the stand if anyone else was a suspect. If they said no, they should be prosecuted for perjury.

HadEnough said...

Thanks Grits for keeping up with this issue. I have a suspicion that this type of behavior goes far beyond Texas. As I have said in a previous post on a similar topic, the actions of lying self serving, less than honorable prosecutors appear to be becoming more prevalent. Seems like every few days or so you see a post on various Blogs or other sources telling of yet another county, or state prosecutor or an Assistant US Attorney getting their hands caught in the cookie jar over manipulating evidence, coercing fabricated evidence in a plea deal or just out right lying. Especially when attempting to throw the "conspiracy" blanket over anyone in sight in order to pad their conviction rate.
Sure would like to see some numbers on how many have been called on their misconduct in, say, the last year or two.
Faceless Man said... Prosecutors should not be able to hide behind their official position when it is found they misbehaved intentionally. I agree.

Anonymous said...

I'm still failing to see in this article where it says the prosecutors failed to disclose anything. To me, this just underscores Grits' complete lack of objectivity on these types of issues. Sure, if a prosecutor intentionally fails to disclose Brady material, he or she should be sanctioned. Nonetheless, there are a myriad of reasons why a scrupulous prosecutor might never learn of potentially exculpatory evidence until well after the fact. Not the least of these is the possibility that the police never disclosed the information to the DA's office. Exculpatory evidence can come up anytime from any source. Suppose, for example, a neighboring law enforcement agency gets a confession from a suspect to an offense that someone else is being prosecuted for. If there's not enough information in that confession to allow that agency to connect the dots and appreciate the significance of what they've learned, it's entirely possible (if not likely) that the information will never make it to the DA's office or neighboring law enforcement agency handling the concurrent prosecution. Or maybe it's something just as simple as a potentially exculpatory statement being accidentally placed in the wrong investigative file; or not being forwarded to the DA. Once that information is discovered, the wrongly accused or convicted should absolutely be entitled to relief. But to suggest that a prosecutor should be ethically sanctioned for failing to disclose information they were never aware of is patently absurd and will only cause good and decent lawyers (and lawyers who have good sense) not to go into criminal prosecution as a profession. But then again, maybe that's exactly what Grits wants given his anarchist leanings. Maybe a return to pure vigilante justice in our society wouldn't be such a bad thing after all. I'm sure no "innocents" would ever be unjustly punished under such a circumstance!

doran said...

Anon 3:56/7:53--

I can't find anything in the comments of Grits to support your suggestion that the prosecutors in the Richard Miles case failed to disclose information to the Defense that they should have. The primary Grits reference to prosecutors was:

"Speaking of prosecutors, if six times in the last two years convictions in Dallas were voided because exculpatory evidence wasn't disclosed, I'm curious how many of the prosecutors involved were disciplined as a result by the state bar? Wanna bet the answer is "zero"? (Perhaps the Dallas News reporters can let us know that tidbit in a followup report or on the paper's Crime Blog.)"

Maybe the answer would be zero, and if so, maybe that is because LE did not inform prosecutors of the existence of the evidence. Wouldn't it be worthwhile to get some answers to these questions?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:53, I've never once claimed to be "objective." Go somewhere else if you want a writer to pretend they have no bias.

As for your instant complaint, here's the text you're apparently whining about:

"Speaking of prosecutors, if six times in the last two years convictions in Dallas were voided because exculpatory evidence wasn't disclosed, I'm curious how many of the prosecutors involved were disciplined as a result by the state bar? Wanna bet the answer is 'zero'?"

If you can't figure out I'm referencing the OTHER 5 cases mentioned in the article where Brady material wasn't turned over, you're simply too dumb to bother with. You have to read the whole sentence, not just the parts you want to pretend to be offended by.

That said, just so you know, prosecutors are responsible for searching police files and it's on them to ensure that Brady material in possession of the police is turned over. A quick search, for example, came up with the policy of the Los Angeles DA:

"Full compliance with constitutionally required discovery under Brady v. Maryland (1963) 373 U.S. 83, must include a method of identifying and accessing possible Brady material in the possession of law enforcement. Therefore, in conjunction with SD 02-08, which sets forth office policy for handling Brady material known within the Office of the District Attorney, this policy addresses possible Brady material which may be in the possession of law enforcement."

So it's the DA who has a responsibility to identify and disclose that material to the other side. Whether the information is in their file or at the police department, it's still in the hands of "the state" as far as Brady is concerned.

Would police misconduct mitigate sanctions by the state bar? Possibly in this case (though neither of us really know from this coverage, do we?), but probably not in all six of the ones the Dallas DA identified in recent exonerations.

Anonymous said...

Grits, there's nothing "dumb" about failing to see the connection between the news article you've quoted and your unwarranted comments about the bar sanctioning prosecutors. You are the one who's speculating and drawing an inference that's clearly not supported by the resource material you're citing. What you and other posters on this thread seem to be advocating is some type of automatic vicarious professional responsibility and sanction for prosecutors who may not have disclosed information that they where never made aware of. Sure, prosecutors have ethical duties to investigate and disclose exculpatory evidence. That's not a point of contention here. What is in contention here is the abusurdity of your implicit suggestion that some prosecutor should have his bar license yanked based upon a failure of the police to disclose exculpatory evidence. In this instance, we can't even tell from the article you've quoted that the failure to disclose by the police was done in bad faith. I don't know if you have children but an apt analogy in this instance would be a suggestion that parents should automatically be held liable and punished for the mistakes and misconduct of their children. Aren't parents ethically and morally responsible for raising their kids? Of course they are! But do you want to live in a society where you'll automatically be held legally responsible if the actions of your child result in harm to another? If that's what you're advocating here, I'd be careful about who I'm calling "dumb."

Gritsforbreakfast said...

9:12, you want to pretend my reference was solely to this case when clearly it was to all the recent cases reported by the Dallas News.

Also, nobody suggested anyone have their bar license "yanked," though I could envision cases where that might be warranted. Instead I wondered how many had been "disciplined". Most disciplinary actions fall far short of disbarment. But then, I'm sure you know that; you're just FOS.

BTW, as an aside, I don't know if you're aware of this but parents CAN be held accountable for offenses by their children - truancy is a good example. See also Chapter 41 of the Family Code, titled "Liability of parents for conduct of child." The law not infrequently holds accountable someone in a supervisory capacity for the actions of those they're required to monitor, and that also happens to be the case with Brady material. Complain to SCOTUS, I didn't write the rules.

Finally, you want to claim my bias discredits me in some profound way but don't have the cojones to sign your name to your own comments and be held accountable for misrepresentations and, yes, your own "bias." Meanwhile you're taking my comments, portraying them in absurd, hyperbolic ways, then chastising me for saying things nobody ever contended. So why should I care, exactly, about your good opinion?

You can have the floor now, I've wasted enough time with you.

Faceless Man said...

9:12,

I haven't seen anyone on this blog, including Grits, advocating for blanket sanctioning of prosecutors.

Cases where the prosecutor's behavior was BLATANTLY/INTENTIONALLY unethical, whether evidence was withheld or information was not given to the defense (a la Charles Dean Hood), are instances where they should be sanctioned.

Ignoring such behavior or deflecting blame is, as you put it, "dumb."

doran said...

Anon 9:12

I cannot totally agree with your analogizing cops to children. Many of them are, of course, child-like in their attitudes and behavior, and it is refreshing to see that you recognize that fact. But, not all cops are that way and your suggestion that they are is an over-generalization.

The Pharisee said...

Would it count for instance, in the FLDS cases that it may be shown that Texas knew of a close personal relationship between Rozita and CSPD officers and WITHHELD that information from the defense?

It has been established that the relationship existed, and the FLDS did not know. There is circumstantial evidence to suggest that Texas knew in April of last year.

NoMoreNoloContendere said...

Hey Grits,
It's always nice to come home & read about a topic right up my alley. Thanks for already saying what needs to be said to those either living in denial or just FOS.

We plan to interview Mr. Miles after he's had some time to settle. Of course we'll let you know of the results. (Project: Not Guilty) only deals with closed cases having absolutely nothing to do with DNA and or DEATH ROW. Exsisting projects refusal to touch the remaining areas has guided us to do so exclusively.

Mr. Miles, has now become a member of a private club, where you have to be singled out and invited to join. We plan on "crashing the party" and singling out the remaining percentage that is Not Guilty. Soon the club will be honoring "ALL" instead of picking & choosing. Thanks.