Spencer wants new Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to pardon him based on actual innocence. In other words, he wants Abbott to proclaim Spencer didn’t commit the crime.RELATED: Pardon me, Governor Abbott, but about your clemency policy?
“I’m getting older,” Spencer said during a recent interview at the Coffield prison unit where he turned 50 in December. “I try to keep a positive outlook, hopeful that one day, by some means, I’ll be free.”
Spencer was convicted in the 1987 fatal robbery of West Dallas clothing firm executive Jeffrey Young during the city’s crack cocaine epidemic. He was sentenced to 35 years for murder but won a new trial after a witness did not disclose she had received reward money. It was on that second chance that a jury sentenced Spencer to life in prison for aggravated robbery.
Spencer then won a third opportunity — a hearing in front of state District Judge Rick Magnis in July 2007. That chance came after witnesses pointed to another man as the killer and questions surfaced about how much witnesses could have seen from 100 to 200 feet away on a dark, moonless night. Magnis eventually found Spencer innocent. But Spencer’s hopes were dashed in April 2011 when the Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the judge’s findings.
Spencer’s new plea will go to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which will make a recommendation to Abbott. If the board or Abbott denies his request, Spencer could be running out of chances. ...
Dozens have written to the parole board in support of Spencer’s pardon, including lawmakers and exonerees who served time with him.
But the letter that could have the most impact is from Craig Watkins, who served as Dallas County’s district attorney for eight years before leaving office Dec. 31.
Watkins had opposed Spencer in the 2007 hearing before Magnis. But in Watkins’ letter, written while still in office, he said that the hearing happened before he created a nationally recognized conviction integrity unit and witnessed the release of so many wrongly convicted men.
“We learned many lessons through those exonerations,” he wrote. “We confirmed that eyewitnesses can be mistaken in their identifications. We established that science can disprove even the most resolute witnesses. And we proved that even well-intentioned, well-meaning prosecutions can nonetheless be misdirected.”
Russell Wilson, who oversaw the conviction integrity unit for Watkins and is now in private practice, said he’s not sure a jury would convict Spencer today.
“Any jury hearing a case today is aware of problems with identification. And, in Ben’s case there is a viable alternative suspect,” Wilson said. “The evidence that puts you in prison has to keep you in prison every day that you’re there. If it’s not good enough, then you should be free.”
Watkins’ new stance could have sway with the board. The Court of Criminal Appeals noted in its ruling that Watkins, a Democrat, is known for exonerating the innocent and that he did not at the time support Spencer.
Monday, February 09, 2015
Innocence and clemency: An early test for Greg Abbott
Ben Spencer's case provides an early-in-term test for new Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's clemency policy. Reported Jennifer Emily at the Dallas Morning News (Feb. 8):