Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins has gained a national reputation for spearheading prisoner exonerations.With the passage of SB 344 by Whitmire/Turner, people convicted based on junk science now have a clear path to pursue habeas corpus writs to challenge their convictions, with old arson and shaken-baby cases high on the list of bad science likely to be challenged. It will be welcome news if Watkins takes leadership and gets out in front of those issues the way he did on DNA testing. The main difference will be that, until the Legislature changed the law in 2011 (SB 122 by Ellis), DAs could prevent DNA testing in old cases if they chose, just as Williamson County DA John Bradley thwarted testing in the Michael Morton case for many years simply by objecting. By contrast, the passage of SB 344 means junk science cases can now get back into court via habeas writs on their own, so Watkins and other District Attorneys will be forced to revisit them whether they want to or not. Still, it's refreshing to see a DA willing to seek out false convictions in junk science cases instead of reflexively fighting tooth and nail to keep them intact.
As he prepares to seek a third term, Watkins said Thursday he wants to expand on that role and add a few others. ...
Watkins, a Democrat who was first elected in 2006, gained attention for using DNA tests to overturn convictions, and he said his office has a few more such cases pending.
When prosecutors finish with those next year, Watkins said, he wants his team to take another look at people convicted of arson and those accused of shaking their babies to death. Watkins said he has concerns about the science used in the prosecution of both types of cases.
“The science has changed. We need to revisit it,” Watkins said without elaborating.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Dallas DA pledges to review convictions based on junk science
Assuming he wins a third term as Dallas District Attorney, which without opposition in the Democratic primary appears increasingly likely, Craig Watkins said recently he wants to expand the work of his Conviction Integrity Unit - which spearheaded his office's review of old DNA cases, leading to numerous exonerations - to include arson and shaken baby cases. Reported the Dallas Morning News ("Craig Watkins says he still has big plans for DA's office," Nov. 14):