We actually had three that were brought to us, and we did DNA testing, and two proved to be wrongful identifications and one confirmed guilt. And there wasn't much publicity about the one that was confirmed, because it was just confirmed. ... But it was after the two mistaken identification deals ... that we began looking at, eventually, 400 old cases on our own to determine whether biological evidence was present that could be tested but wasn't. And we did not find any exonerations. We retested about six cases and did not find any exonerations.Baird argues that the department has not taken the lessons from wrongful convictions to heart:
She says there have been three DNA cases, and that two of them were exonerations. I don't know what changes they made as a result of that. ... When there is a plane crash, everybody stops and they go out there and they figure out why did this plane crash, and let's make sure it never happens again. It seems like to me that they don't do that in the criminal justice system. They don't say, "Well, my God, why did this happen in Morton?" Or Ochoa and Danziger?While I agree with the need to re-evaluate internal practices when false convictions occur, to me Lehmberg's response raises an even more troubling concern. As is often the case when interpreting political rhetoric, perhaps more important than the incumbent's actual statement is what she left unsaid. The DA doesn't say which cases she's talking about and Grits can't tell from the context. She said the exonerated two were based on false eyewitness IDs, for example, so that wouldn't include Christopher Ochoa and Richard Danziger. So she seems to be downplaying and understating her office's problem with false convictions.
In addition, she's seemingly not including the Yogurt Shop defendants among the exonerated. There, DNA evidence obliterated the state's theory of the crime, causing the convictions to be overturned and the defendants to be released. If Lehmberg is not including those defendants in the totals, that means she's clinging to the preposterous unindicted co-ejaculator theory involving some mysterious fifth perpetrator unforeseen by the prosecution's theory nor referenced during the lengthy interrogations that led to the overturned confessions. (Perhaps she's only including cases that came to the office while she was sitting as DA, but she was First Assistant for a dozen years before that and a key decisionmaker on the appeals and writs in question.)
So my concern is less that the office hasn't learned any lessons from the two cases that they grant resulted in false convictions, but more that she seems to remain in denial over false convictions in the Yogurt Shop and Pizza Hut murder prosecutions that gives me pause about her re-election.
Baird, by contrast, has consistently been on the cutting edge of the notion that false convictions could be rooted out while still ensuring the guilty are convicted, standing up as a leader on the issue as far back as the late 1990s both while serving on the Court of Criminal Appeals and afterward, leading Grits to recently call him "virtually the father of Texas DNA exonerations" for his role in the Roy Criner case.
Lehmberg's somewhat blindered, bunker mentality IMO doesn't stem from some nefarious desire to falsely convict anyone but from the tunnel vision that comes frpm working as a prosecutor in the same office for nearly forty years (which is how long she'll have been there when this contested next term ends). My sense is Charlie Baird will be more willing to try new things and move more aggressively to improve processes when errors happen, if only because he'll have no personal, institutional stakes in defending the status quo, a reflex which from time to time seems to stymie the incumbent.
This is one of several issues that to me clearly delineates the candidates and makes me come down on the side of Judge Baird. Every politician has flaws and like Craig Watkins in Dallas, I won't agree with him on every issue. But Judge Baird would enter the job unfettered by decades of institutional baggage that IMO limits the incumbent's vision, not to mention possessing a more profound appreciation for the implications of DNA exonerations for the prosecutorial profession. I don't know if Democratic primary voters will understand that distinction, but to me it's an important one.