Saturday, May 14, 2011

Texas' latest DNA exoneree misidentified by juveniles in photo spread

Texas' latest DNA exoneree is Johnny Pinchback, yet another out of Dallas County. An email from my employers at the Innocence Project of Texas informs us that "We have some exciting information to share.  As many of you may know, the Dallas Co. DA's office has agreed that DNA evidence has proven Johnny Pinchback's innocence. Mr. Pinchback was convicted of aggravated sexual assault in 1984 and spent over 26 years in prison.  His hearing will take place tomorrow morning at the Dallas Criminal District Court #2 at 9AM.  IPOT will also be releasing a press release later this afternoon that I will forward to everyone.  Congratulations to everyone involved in this case!" According to a hot off the presses release from the Dallas DA's office,
A writ hearing on actual innocence has been scheduled for the court to enter findings on the post-conviction DNA test results of Johnny Pinchback.  Prosecutors from the Dallas County District Attorney’s (DA) Conviction Integrity Unit will ask the judge for a favorable finding of actual innocence for Johnny Pinchback.  Mr. Pinchback was granted post-conviction forensic DNA testing under Chapter 64 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.  The hearing will take place on Thursday, May 12, 2011, at 9:00 a.m. CST in Criminal District Court 2, Judge Don Adams presiding.

While Pinchback, now 55, pled not guilty to both crimes, he was convicted by a jury on October 5, 1984, of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to 99 years in prison. He has served 27 years of that sentence.  Pinchback will be the 26th exoneree overall and the 22nd cleared by DNA in Dallas County since a law (article 64.01) was passed in 2001 allowing convicted inmates to request post-conviction DNA testing.
This is another instance where the Dallas DA's office worked effectively with the Innocence Project of Texas to facilitate testing, a partnership which, despite rocky moments, has been really effective at identifying and processing potentially valid innocence claims. Even really old ones like Mr. Pinchback's who was misidentified by two teenage girls from  photo spreads, according to the Dallas DA's office, as the stranger who attacked and raped them. Nearly three decades later, though, Pinchback's DNA didn't match the rape-kit sample. Makes you wonder how many other innocent people, and guilty ones, might be identified if the tens of thousands of backlogged rape kits were ever finally tested?

This case is almost a poster child for SBs 1616 and 1636 by Senators West and Davis respectively, both of which have passed the Senate and await the judgment of a lately-tempestuous House. And of course it's another great example of the need for eyewitness ID reform (HB 215).  If there was ever an argument for improving eyewitness ID procedures, proper maintenance of biological evidence, and reducing the backlog of untested rape kits, Mr Pinchback's example seems to scream out for such reforms.

MORE: From the Dallas Observer and the Austin Chronicle.

an investigation initiated by the Innocence Project of Texas led to tests on body hair cuttings from one of the victims that showed the DNA of another man.

Natalie Roetzel, the chief attorney for the nonprofit organization, said Pinchback got a break because such cuttings don't always yield evidence of DNA and no other material from the rape kit could be located.
"We got very lucky that they were able to find seminal fluid on the cuttings, which is rare," she said.

Roetzel said Pinchback's belief in his innocence was noticed in prison by another man who felt the same about his own Dallas County aggravated sexual assault conviction. That man, Charles Chatman, was exonerated in 2008 and then began lobbying the Innocence Project of Texas on Pinchback's behalf, she said.

"He was persistent in calling me and saying, 'Look at Johnny's case,'" Roetzel said.

She said Chatman has purchased a suit for Pinchback to wear at the hearing.

Roetzel said the excitement Pinchback feels about his pending release is tempered by the notion that he was wrongfully imprisoned for so long.
"He's obviously very excited," she said. "But he's also calm, because he's known for 27 years he's not the man who did these crimes."


Anonymous said...

Why does Dallas County have an unusually high percentage of post-conviction exonerations due to faulty eye witness identification (much higher than the national average)?

Is it because the past protocols for eye witness identification by Dallas PD (or other local PD) were so poor?
Is it because the juries in Dallas were gullible to believe testifying eye witnesses?

Or, are does the county DA cherry-pick these cases (among the large number of actual innocence claims brought forward), thereby minimizing the number of lawsuits from cases of actual innocent that involved prosecution misconduct, lying/unethical police, incompetent defense lawyers, or faulty science from the crime lab? (Is the current DA investigating claims of actual innocence that his own administration prosecuted?)

Sadly, Sec. 1983 civil rights lawsuits related to exonerations are a big buck business. And it's very difficult to blame, or sue, the eye witnesses for "oops, i guess we were wrong".

I'd hate to find out that other cases of actual innocence are not moving forward in Dallas County in fear of bad press or lawsuits.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

5:13, It's mainly because Dallas saved their old DNA evidence and most counties did not.

Pamela J. Lakatos said...

Despite what people want to think, one of the major reasons Dallas has been at the forefront of DNA exonerations is because Henry Wade implemented a policy of maintaining DNA evidence and they finally got a DA who was not scared to open these cases up.

I have not seen very many other offices make any effort to review the integrity of past convictions when confronted with an allegation by one who claims wrongful conviction.

I have worked with several DA offices that had and continue to have policies that once a case is disposed and all direct appellate avenues are finally pursued, the DNA, along with a lot of other evidence, is destroyed.

There is even a statute, passed by the legislature, which allows police departments to destroy DNA, and other evidence after a period of time. It provides that notice should be sent to a defendant, lawyer who represented him at the time and provides an opportunity for objection, but if this process is not followed, there are no penalties imposed upon the State.

In these cases, as this usually only comes to light when there is a request for DNA testing and it is discovered that none exists the courts have held that they have no jurisdiction to impose sanctions.

I have seen plea agreements that contain a provision that the DNA, and other evidence will be destroyed as a result of the agreement.

Don't kid yourselves. There is not one District Attorney's Office in Texas who has not wrongfully convicted someone. They just do not make it very easy to prove it once the case is disposed.

The only reason you see so many DNA exonerations is that it is something that cannot be manipulated.

Eyewitness testimony, crooked cops, overzealous District Attorneys influencing civilian witnesses to testify the way they want them to, witnesses who want to "help the police", all these have resulted in wrongful convictions but you will rarely see an exoneration in these cases because this type of misconduct is so difficult to prove-especially if you do not have witnesses who have the courage to come forward and tell the truth. (Incompetent defense lawyers are always subject to attack and are rarely a factor in actual innocence allegations)

The law holds the government responsible for "faulty science from the crime lab" as it is the government that uses, sponsors and validates the use of such evidence in trials.

So far Texas has granted absolute immunity to DAs for any misconduct. The Texas Supreme Court has held that they are immune from any liability for any kind of misconduct.

The Texas Bar Grievance Committee rarely disciplines prosecutors for any transgression involving these type of allegations.

I am not saying all these problems result from bad or ill motivated prosecutors, in fact much of this is the result of prosecutors being naive, overzealous and easily influenced by police officers and crime lab technicians who also are so blinded by wanting to "get the bad guy" that they are blind to their own prejudices.

There are no easy answers, but we should always be willing to do the hard work of trying to make sure that we leave no stone unturned in investigating any possible wrongful conviction.

sunray's wench said...

Scott, do you know if, when these DNA samples are tested, they are also run against the existing inmate population in TDCJ to try and match with anyone currently serving time for other offences? Every inmate has to provide a DNA sample now, and it would be even better news if those truely responsible were also identified and prosecuted for the crimes, instead of only aiming to release the innocent.

Anonymous said...

And still Craig Watkins continues to prosecute the capital murder death penalty trial of Jonathan Bruce Reed despite DNA evidence from the pubic hairs of the victim which proves he was not the one who raped and murdered her.

Anonymous said...

I think another reason for the many exonerated cases out of Dallas County is that, barring absolute evidence placing the accused 100's of miles from the crime at the exact moment it occurs, there is and will never be a successful defense of sexually assaultive cases.

Advocacy groups running through their bought and paid state's legislators have ensured that once accused, the defendant is guilty no matter what, the trial is only there to parade the accused.

It isn't about justice with sexually assaultive cases, it is about revenge and retribution. This is evident by looking at the laws passed since the early 90's.

Until the field is leveled allowing ALL defendants to present a case against accusers, we will continue to see these cases reversed much later.

It is a shame though, that it takes 18, 15, 26 years of a man's life to right the wrongs. While I am not saying this guy would have found the cure for Cancer, I am saying that it is such a waste to take the most energetic years of someone's life away, when they might have been a contributing factor in society.

Any bets that Gov. Goodhair and Abbott/Costello will try and short change this guy on money he earned for 26 years of wrongful incarceration?

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits & all, let's congratulate Mr. Pinchback for standing his ground and never giving up in his endeavors. Thank the Lord for Mr. Chatman for having the courage to stand up for another human being. Thank the Lord for the IPOT Team for picking his case out a mile high pile.

As Mr. Pinchback attempts to get his stolen life back, he'll be a victim of 'The Great Texas Roundup of 1984' & may he have a blast spending our tax dollars for the rest of his life.

As usual - we need the names of the Arresting Officer(s), Detective(s), DA, ADA, DA's Investigator, Defense Team, Judge & Court Reporter. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Was he convicted solely on witness ID, and nothing else?

"Natalie Roetzel, the chief attorney for the nonprofit organization, said Pinchback got a break because such cuttings don't always yield evidence of DNA and no other material from the rape kit could be located."

So the crime lab doesn't keep ALL the evidence. I get what you're asking Anon#1. Maybe something other than misidentification contributed to the conviction. Something not worthy of public attention, so say the DA.

Chris H said...

I had jury duty today and people have the option of donating their payment directly to one of two charities. A child fund and a victim's fund. Is there an effort to allow an innocence fund? If not, why not?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Fascinating, Chris. What county are you in? I wonder if that's a local policy? Never heard of that.

sunray's wench said...

I was hoping the comments would return along with this post, but never mind.

I had asked you before Scott, are the rape kits being run against the existing population of TDCJ inmates, as well as against the individual convicted of the crime originally? It would be nice to think (and good for the victim too) that they were still trying to solve the case alongside accepting the innocence of the wrongfully convicted.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

sw, the answer is yes, they're typically run against CODIS as well as the suspect.

Chris H said...

Tarrant County

Ted Wood said...

The fact that this comes from "Wade Country" makes it all the more disturbing, as Henry Wade was DA there for so long-but, the new DA in Dallas is to be commended for his willingness to provide access to Art. 64 testing- will perfect hair provide funding for all of the compensation due these exonerees? it will be doubly satisfying when these exonerations begin poppoing up in Williamson County; I think donating jury money to Innocence projects sounds like an excellent idea- next- eyewitness reform? for all interested the NAS report is available as a free PDF download- google it- its easy to find