The police officer testified that when he asked Sewell who attacked him, he answered, "Billy Allen." But a defense investigator after the trial found two paramedics who heard Sewell saying three names as he was dying, the Court of Criminal Appeals said. One said he heard [victim James] Sewell say "Billy Wayne Allen," the name of another possible suspect. The other paramedic remembered hearing a middle name but couldn't recall it.Allen's case eerily parallels that of James Giles, who was also the victim of a wrong-name mixup that cost him ten years in prison and another 14 as a registered sex offender. The only difference:, DNA evidence existed in Giles' case to prove him innocent, whereas here that absolute standard can't be met.
That new evidence left the officer's testimony ineffective, and the remaining major piece of evidence -- the palm print on the car -- would not have been enough to convict him, the Court of Criminal Appeals determined. The court overturned Allen's conviction in 2009, and he walked out of prison on bail.
Now, the Texas Supreme Court is considering Allen's compensation claim. Both sides recently argued before the court, with Allen's attorneys saying he had proved himself innocent and was the same as any other ex-inmate who had been released from prison.
"Billy will establish that you don't have to have a DNA exoneration to be compensated," said his attorney, Kris Moore.
Assistant Solicitor General Philip Lionberger, representing the state, said Allen was freed through a claim that raised legitimate questions about his conviction but did not prove he was fully innocent. He said state law only requires payment to former inmates who win their freedom after presenting evidence proving their innocence based on a stricter standard than the one Allen met.
Lionberger said Allen's claim and others like his are "never going to be entitled to compensation."
The Texas Supreme Court has a tough job setting the standard for compensation in non-DNA cases, and if they find the current law is inadequate to compensate Mr. Allen, the Lege should revisit the standard in light of non-DNA exonerations. Where that line gets drawn is a multi-million dollar decision for the state, but we also know DNA exonerations represent just a small fraction of the total number of false convictions. The compensation law should accommodate the types of innocence cases actually out in the world. The Tulia defendants received compensation, after all: DNA has never been a pre-requisite for compensation under Texas' statute and I hope the court doesn't create a precedent now that would make that the case.