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):
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.

“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.
RELATED: Pardon me, Governor Abbott, but about your clemency policy?


DEWEY said...

My money's on Rick Perry getting the first pardon.....

Anonymous said...

Expect Abbott to have a heart? I wouldn't bank on it for a minute. What intrigues me here, though, is that the original jury gave 35 years and then the second jury gave life for a less serious offense ... no double jeopardy protection there, but there's a question buzzing round my mind about what seem to be a real anomaly.

Anonymous said...

The dead man was connected to Ross Perot. Perot put up the Reward money. Where was Perot when the reward issue came up in court? Might he have stepped forward to confirm the reward pressure? The cloudy night and faulty view was established early. How well was the eye witness woman questioned and tested? As recently as 2013 when Watkins was asked -in a public meeting- why he would not look at the Spencer case again, he firmly answered. "the defense was based on 'junk science.'" Watkins had plenty of requests to reexamine the Spenser case -- the whole SMU human rights community had public presentations exposing the court violations. The Spencer case is another shameful event in Texas History.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

It's a crying shame that the Innocence Project of Texas engaged in the Cherry Picking for Justice games since its inception. Okay, yes, they dabbled in a couple of non-DNA claims and went all out for those caught up in the Galveston fiasco when DNA claims were scarce.

But, now that the DNA Dance is winding down (due to - evidence going missing) and they are going into junk science mode, I ask Mr. Blackburn to consider stepping up to the plate and represent Mr. Spencer. Or kindly explain why he doesn't qualify. IMHO, a shitty description and crappy identification made from it should qualify as junk identifications.

*NOTE: The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles (Clemency Section) will require him (Applicant) to seek unanimous letters of recommendations from the three original trial officials. The DA, the sheriff and the judge, all having no requirement or reason to reply, much less agree in writing that they or, their predecessors engaged in a conspiracy to convict and re-convict the innocent. Therefore, he will not qualify for a Full Pardon - for/based on innocence due to loopholes and hurdles purposely placed in front of Applicant's. Gov Abbott should be asked to explain why we (Texas) should keep a policy that prevents Applicant's Packages from being considered?

*Anyone good at creating Petitions is asked to author one and tell everyone about it. We've been telling Perry & Co. about Spencer for years and you guessed it - Ignore.


Anonymous said...

"He has been refused parole four times" from the linked article.

Q. who all wrote in to the Board or Gov. Perry and asked them to DENY?

A. we will never know because the A.G's. Office will side with the TBP&P saying that the communications are not public information while he's seeking clemency.

The joke is on the public at large.

Anonymous said...

To Thomas R. Griffith; your "Note" is right on. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles should not require (Applicant) to seek unanimous letters especially from the original trial officials. We have been fighting the corruption in our courthouse for years, their conspiracy to convict and re-convict for the revenue is well known. The probation fees are ridiculous and unfair/unequal for the circumstances. As a DA told his audience "I give them long (10 years) probation, so that we can yank them back in the system" (recorded).