Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Two more innocent men from Dallas getting out after 12 years

Dallas DA Craig Watkins' Conviction Integrity Unit has identified exonerating evidence regarding two more Dallas men sentenced to life in prison, the Dallas News reports:
Claude Alvin Simmons, Jr., 54, and Christopher Shun Scott, 39, who are both serving life sentences for the April 7, 1997, shooting death of Alfonso Aguilar, will both be released after convicted robber Alonzo Hardy gave authorities a detailed confession implicating himself and another man in the murder.

A confession by a man already in prison for another crime will lead to the exoneration of two men wrongly convicted for a 1997 capital murder, the Dallas County district attorney's office said today.

Hardy, 39, has been in prison since 1999, serving a 30-year sentence for a robbery committed a year after the Aguilar slaying.

Aguilar, 41, was fatally shot in the chest during a home-invasion robbery in the 4600 block of Hopkins Avenue. A female relative was also sexually assaulted during the incident, authorities had said. A Dallas County jury convicted Simmons after just six minutes of deliberations.

Dallas police Tuesday night arrested Don Michael Anderson, 40, in Houston for his role in the killing. According to the district attorney's office, Hardy's confession implicated Anderson and cleared both Simmons and Scott of any involvement in the crime.

The News article by Diane Jennings doesn't say what was the underlying cause of the false conviction, but looking at the photos it appears to have been a bad eyewitness identification. Here are pictures of the falsely convicted men:
Claude Alvin Simmons, Jr. (left) and Christopher Shun Scott

And here are the pictures of the actual perpetrators:
Alonzo Hardy (left) and Don Michael Anderson

Pretty darn close, huh? More and more I believe that, in cases where the witness didn't previously know the defendant, all eyewitness identification testimony should require corroboration in criminal court, particularly if the Legislature and the courts don't require police to use best practices when gathering eyewitness evidence. Witnesses just get it wrong too frequently, and too predictably.

UPDATE: AP confirms this was a case of mistaken eyewitness ID: "'This is a classic misidentification, eyewitness case,' said Simmons' attorney, John Stickels."

NUTHER UPDATE (10/22): I spoke last night to Mike Ware, the head of the Dallas DA's Conviction Integrity Unit, who told me a little more about the case. He said the new confession - taken over two days of depositions in June - was detailed and matched up with crime scene evidence a lot better than the prosecution's theory of the case.

A single, uncorroborated witness was the sole basis for both false convictions, he said. Both defendants testified on their own behalf and put on alibi evidence, but the jury believed the prosecution's witness over them. (I don't know the stats on how many DNA exonerees in Texas presented alibi evidence at trial, but it was quite a few of them.) He pointed out that back then Dallas had not yet improved its eyewitness ID procedures to require blind administration and showing pictures sequentially instead of in a photo array.

What's more, says Ware, the apparent real perpetrators were suspects back in 1997 and one of them actually confessed at the time to a third party, but the judge wouldn't let the jury hear that evidence. Mike thought that judicial decision was likely the deciding factor in the false conviction - that the outcome might have been different if the jury had heard all the evidence. As is often the case with recent exonerations, it wasn't just the eyewitness ID error but that combined with other breakdowns in the process that allowed this mistake to happen.

Both the currently imprisoned men and the new confessor passed polygraphs, said Ware, and the DA's office offered no promises or deal to Alonzo Hardy for his testimony. They plan to prosecute both new suspects for the offense, he said.

MORE: The Dallas Observer interviewed Craig Watkins about the cases. Here's a longer version of the Dallas News story.

41 comments:

Acerbic said...

Ummm, no. Besides the fact that they are black I see few similarities in their appearance.

It's the same old bullshit; some black guy did it and now someone has to pay. It doesn't matter who...just someone. The whole system stinks.

And frankly, Scott, I'm appalled you are buying in to this racism. Those guys look nothing alike. Maybe you should spend more time around negroes.

Anonymous said...

While staying away from Acerbic;s racism, I will note that the overwhelming number of exonerees are black.

Says something about the justice system.

doran said...

I strongly disagree, Acerbic, with your comments about similarities.

There is an amazingly close resemblance between Scott and Hardy. Even to the way they tilted their heads for the photo.

Not so much for Simmons and Anderson, but enough for a witness to get it wrong under exciting, scary, stressful and perhaps poorly lighted circumstances.

I agree the system stinks.

I'm appalled that you see this as a matter of racism.

Spend more time around Negroes????????

Tell him, Grits.

Anonymous said...

How do we know these new confessions are reliable? This blog has pretty well established that people will give false confessions for all sorts of reasons. In fact we can no longer even rely on a guilty plea as persuasive evidence of guilt. How ironic that we are now comfortably relying on one kind of unreliable evidence to "correct" errors caused by another type of unreliable evidence!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:03, the AP story says the confession was corroborated by physical evidence from the scene, FWIW.

Acerbic, I'll do my best to find some Negroes to spend time with.

Anonymous said...

Does this mean more millionares here in TX. I love it. They deserve any monies they get
Cathy

Boyness said...

These four guys do bear a striking resemblance so I can honestly see how an eyewitness could make a mistake. What I cannot understand is how they were convicted with evidence that will now, likely, convict someone else. In the end though, this is Texas and this truly is "business as usual."

Acerbic said...

Scott I feel you bro. You are commended for having a colored god daughter.

I still don't get why you think the people in those pictures look anything alike...but oh well.

Karo said...

This modified version of the image allows one to appreciate the similarities and the differences.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Acerbic, "negro," "colored"? Are you somehow timewarping from 1963 to make these comments?

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time those were polite words. Maybe Acerbic is 85 years old?

Faceless Man said...

Acerbic,

I believe that Tulia PD is still hiring.

Anonymous said...

I, for one am so tired of the racist attitude in the entire world and not just in Texas. We are all God's children and yes none of us are perfect. We are not the Great Judge and to condemn a person to prison because that person is a different color is just wrong.

Time and time again, eye witness idenities have been proven to be wrong. The fact there a person's perception of an incident varies from whatever their mind perceives and to hear a DA claim a person is guilty because this will put a check in his/her win column is also wrong. People all see things differently and can easily be swayed to letting someone tell them what they want heard and say it so convincingly, the mind will just go there because it is easier to do that and then relax.

I agree with many of you who are realizing the judicial system in Texas is biased and needs a complete overhaul. Too many innocent men are being denied their lives bacause of DAs who just want to win. Our court system has come down to whomever has the best actor and that is wrong.

Until changes are made, innocent people are made to suffer because of the broken system and the time has come to change the system or completely dismantle it and start over, from every judge, district attorney and every juror needs to educate themselves to how the system is flawed and realize, what you are hearing from the DA may or may not be for their own advantage; especially when a young lawyer is being taught by another Assistant DA and needs to win so he/she can further their law career. Pray to the Lord this can be changed, or what a disgrace Texas is and continues to be to the United States and the rest of the free world.

Anonymous said...

Why don't we look at the other side of the coin - or at least the other side of the bar. If people like Ms. Warder didn't do what they did, there would be no need for the wonderful people at the Innocence Project, but thank God we have THEM. Would you like it if you or a loved one was wrongfully convicted and you knew and knew someone in the Criminal Justice System knew it was wrong but did it anyway? Don't kid yourself as long as the actions like those of Ms. Warder's (as a prosecutor and judge both apparently are allowed to proceed WITHOUT CONSEQUENCE, it can and WILL. What about the lost time with loved ones, kids, friends, contribution to society that these guys have lost? Has anyone put a pencil to the cost this bears out to the taxpayers? I guess Dallas County taxpayers have deep pockets... uh, wait, no they don't. But the wrongfully convicted will now. Now, this woman's a D.A. in Cooke County? Good luck with that!!!

Boyness said...

Come on yall, dont get swayed by the race card tossed out here by some idiot. The real issue here is the same as it has always been and this is the total lack of integrity in Texas justice.

Anonymous said...

For those of you who seem to key in on the fact that it is black men at the center of this case, I point you back to the Pabst and Chabot cases (also involving Ms. Warder who was a prosecutor on those cases at the time). They were NOT black yet a similar outcome - a wrongful conviction - only that one was brought to light via DNA. Again, as long as there are no consequences for those who withhold evidence, do not allow testimony, etc., of course there are going to be cases like this. Because of that, the potentially guilty will walk free and the innocent will not.

Lori Wilson said...

As disgusting as this is, my disdain lies also in the fact that it took just 6 MINUTES to find one of these innocent men guilty. Now, I've never lived in Texas, but I read all the time about how juries were out 10, 20 or 30 minutes before convicting. You can't deliberate anything in that amount of time (hell, on the juries I've been on it has taken longer to pick the foreperson). It appears that in Texas, a lot of juries are rubber stamps for the prosecution - shameful.

Texas Maverick said...

I wonder about the jury in this and a lot of cases. Each time I have been called, the makeup of the final panel would be older whites, not necessarily peers. This important part of our system of government is ignored by most people. They are too busy, too worried about their own lives and just unconcerned because it's not their lives. I'm beginning to think there should not be any reason not to serve. You're called, you serve. Maybe there might be more reasoned juries on more cases. One of the earlier topics suggested pleas are the norm because our jury system is not trusted. What a sad commentary on democracy.

Acerbic said...

Scott, there's nothing wrong with those terms. If you think there is than that's your problem.

And Boyness, fuck you. Nobody has "tossed out the race card" or made personal attacks against you, so chill out.

Anonymous said...

The Judge that withheld this information from the jury was Janice Warder. The trial attorney tried to put on three different witnesses proving who the actual murderers were. Warder refused to allow the jury to hear the evidence which included a confession from the real perpetrator.
Warder also was ruled to have withheld beneficial evidence to the defense in a rape-murder trial when she was a prosecutor. A judge last year ruled that the defendant in that case - Clay Chabot - should get new trial because of Warder's violation of the law. The FOUR separate felony jury trial, life-sentence cases that Warder has now been associated with as withholding evidence (as a prosecutor and later as a judge) are:
Chris Scott
Claude Simmons
Clay Chabot
Gerald Pabst
Please investigate why she still has a law license.
Complaints may be made to the State Bar of Texas,
P.O. Box 12487
Austin, Texas 78711
1-866-224-5999 (toll free)

Anonymous said...

See that is what is wrong with you damn white people (Boyness) trying to identify black during a line up, photo or otherwise...we all look alike. None of these men favor eachother, with difference from everything to skin coloring to noses. OPEN YOU DAMN EYES. if you can't identify the right party...SHUT THE HELL UP but more than that, stsrted noticing the diffeence in the way black people look. We come in all shape, sizesm, skin colors, and like it or not, we don't all look alike!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

When eyewitness are asked to identify someone they've only seen once during a crime, 7:36, their brain searches for similarities, not differences. Small things like bone structure, carriage (e.g., the tilt of the head), etc., can cause false identifications in 100% good faith when the witness didn't previously know the defendant. The rate of false affirmatives is worse with cross-racial IDs, but it's substantial among all races. IMO the root of the problem is not racial but an issue of how human eyesight and our brains function.

Anonymous said...

We come in all shape, sizesm, skin colors, and like it or not, we don't all look alike!

Well I don't like it!

Just kiddin'. Homes.

Acerbic said...

LOL...that's the funniest stuff I've heard in ages. You think using the terms "colored" and "negro" is bad and you are trying to explain why you think all black folk look alike to white people. You're a funny dude, Scott.

Acerbic said...

I'm mostly with you and agree with everything you say, Scott. You are a voice in the wilderness when it comes to injustice. For that I applaud you and will back you up 110%. But there are some things you are just full of shit about.

For instance, you majored in economics and have this idea that all your conclusions can be reliably extrapolated from some formula you learned from some professor years ago. When you are challenged on any issue you typically whip out the statistics like some bean counter.

Economics is not a science any more than psychiatry is. Both disciplines are very controversial. And we don't have to discuss what the "Masters of the Universe" on Wall Street begot. That's your economics.

There is a reason our justice system so often fail and it has nothing to do with the worthless crap you learned in college...it's common sense and everything we should all know. You don't need a fancy ass degree to figure that out.

Eyewitness said...

Escobedo's initial identification of Simmons was no doubt relatively easy for the jury to accept because the evidence was "Escobedo was an eyewitness to the crime, was within Simmons's immediate presence for several minutes, including when he sexually assaulted her, and was in a well lit area during this time." Furthermore, she offered a plausible explanation for why it actually took her two hours of reviewing the photo line-up, provided a few weeks after the murder, to identify him (i.e., that she became scared and upset). I do not think the jurors can be faulted; there just was not a whole lot for them to talk about, given Judge Warder's ruling.

Anonymous said...

Seems like Dallas has long had more than their share of convicting innocent people.

Pirate Rothbard said...

"Economics is not a science any more than psychiatry is. Both disciplines are very controversial. And we don't have to discuss what the "Masters of the Universe" on Wall Street begot. That's your economics."

And just what did the create Acerbic? Honestly, I think you have no clue, you simply hate the rich because they're successful.

Boyness said...

Your right, those guys don't look anything alike.

Anonymous said...

Report: UK police categorize political activists as ‘domestic extremists’

http://rawstory.com/2009/10/report-uk-police-categorize-political-activists-domestic-extremists/

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Acerbic, what does any of this have to do with "economics"? That's a weird spin. Also, I think black people also misidentify black people. And white people. And vice versa. Bottom line, PEOPLE misidentify other people. Eyewitness identification is simply quite often flawed evidence. Read the links I provided at 8:04 above and they have nothing to do with race at all. Don't know why that position confuses anybody or what it has to do with my college major 20 years ago.

NoMoreNoloContendere said...

The Judge, prosecutor and defense attorney let these humans down. What the hell does race have to do with it. Yes it stinks, but throwing around the race card gets you nowhere.

Instead of jerking Grits's chain and ignoring that fact that they damn sure have similarities, let's do something about.

I challenge everyone to write and phone those running for Governor & D.A. while we are still pissed off. Let's send a message that "we humans" demand that the state's judicial system rec. an overhaul and that they clearly state their plans if they want our vote. No clear stance - no frigin vote.

If you want some examples of reforms needed, Grits has a very good list in past post. Remember to included and demand (*Plea bargaining is off the table once a jury is seated, no one is allowed to tap out.)

Pirate Rothbard said...

"(*Plea bargaining is off the table once a jury is seated, no one is allowed to tap out"

Could you clarify what you mean? I dont' understand this last sentence.

Acerbic said...

Scott, you rely on that college major a lot in using statistics to prove points. I mostly agree with all those points but there are times I don't.

I got no hate for you. It's just that sometimes you seem a little off and I was expressing my feelings about it. We're all allowed to be wrong.

Please keep doing the wonderful job you always do, I'm with you. Even if I don't always agree on the minor details.

Acerbic said...

Pirate Rothbard said...
And just what did the create Acerbic? Honestly, I think you have no clue, you simply hate the rich because they're successful.

Who said anything about what they "create[d]"? They didn't create anything, they take a set of circumstance and use their wealth and influence to prey upon the unfortunate lower classes. There is no glory or genious in this, it's sheer predation. The same thing any animal does.

The difference is that animals only take what they need to survive on for the day, while the "successful" continue the blooding until the landscape is bare without regard for anyone else.

That's why our economy is in shambles.

I don't begrudge anyone living well. But that is far different from being a greedy, corrupt predator who would rape his society for his own profit while ignoring everyone and anything else around him.

I guess that's the difference between me and you. You would justify lying and cheating and stealing to gain more than you need and accuse anyone who doesn't agree with your philosophy of be jealous.

Grits had a post about white collar crime and how innocence claims might be affected because the rish are the only ones who get justice. Maybe you should read it.

Pirate Rothbard said...

Acerbic, your post embodies a common misconception: that people like Bernie Madoff were the reason for the economic downturn.

Yes, Madoff committed fraud. But this kind of fraud did not cause the economic downturn. Don't take my word for it, go read what every economist has to say about the economy. No economist, right or left, believes that we went through a recession because of white collar crime.

Read some books on the business cycles. There are various theories on why it occurs.

The rich do not prey on the poor, if by prey you mean “don’t pay enough”. Why have we seen the standard of living for poor people continue to rise? Clearly capitalism works.

Here is a good article on capitalism:
here

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks Acerbic.

Actually I don't rely on my college major much at all, and think most macroeconomic theory is BS, especially the statistically driven math modeling.

I do (very much) believe in the power of mathematics and statistics, but I don't base my approach on any particular economic theory and certainly don't dogmatically accept what I was taught in school, at all.

Acerbic said...

Pirate I totally disagree with you. You are doing the same thing the police do by invoking Bernie Madoff claiming the "bad apple" defense.

A lot of us believe that the problems aren't the result of a few rogues in the system but the whole mindset and culture that allows corruption to flourish.

You have a faith and reliance on a certain social and economic theory I totally disagree with and that's because it's working for you but not for me.

What I want is something that works for everyone, not one that allows the predators to live high on the hog while taking advantage of the less fortunate. I think that is fair and there is nothing wrong with it.

Call it socialism if you like, I really don't care. What I'm talking about is the huge loss I took on my 401K and the devaluation of my real estate because the smart asses with MBAs convinced us all to go into hock. They still have their money because the government bailed their asses out. Not me.

I know for a fact it was the "conservatives" and free marketers who are responsible for this. Yeah, they think they can blame it all on Obama now but I know better.

They were lying, cheating, scamming douchebags then and they still are.

Pirate Rothbard said...

"You have a faith and reliance on a certain social and economic theory I totally disagree with and that's because it's working for you but not for me."

Don't assume that, I know enough about the free market to know that it's good for humanity, regardless of how it affects me personally.

"What I'm talking about is the huge loss I took on my 401K and the devaluation of my real estate because the smart asses with MBAs convinced us all to go into hock. They still have their money because the government bailed their asses out. Not me."

So you owned real estate and have a 401K? It sounds like the system worked pretty well for you.

Maybe you should take this financial tumble you've taken as a learning experience? Lots of people have bounced back.

"I know for a fact it was the "conservatives" and free marketers who are responsible for this...

They were lying, cheating, scamming douchebags then and they still are."

Ok, if that's what you have faith in. But you have no evidence this is true.

Acerbic said...

LOL, you're a fucking douche. You're not worth my time.

Pirate Rothbard said...

your momma