Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Impressive Innocence Lineup Testifies at Senate Criminal Justice Committee

New York Innocence Project lawyer Barry Scheck showed up at the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee this morning with four men who'd been wrongfully convicted and exonerated later by DNA evidence:
  • James Giles: Exonerated yesterday after spending ten years in prison and years more registered as a sex offender for a crime he didn't commit.
  • James Waller: Exonerated earlier this year after spending ten years in prison based on faulty eyewitness testimony. He was wrongfully convicted for raping a child, an offense punished more harshly as part of Jessica's Law this session.
  • Chris Ochoa: Convicted based on a false confession, Chistopher Ochoa used his $5.3 million settlement from the City of Austin to go to law school. Scheck pointed out that Ochoa participated in debates at the Lege six years ago that led to the establishment of post-conviction DNA testing and innocence compensation in Texas.
  • Brandon Moon: Spent more than 17 years wrongfully incarcerated for rape. He became a writ writer while inside and two years ago suggested giving prisoners open records access would be an important innocence reform.
Sen. Rodney Ellis said that the compensation bill as substituted would double the current amount from the state to the federal level of $50,000 per year, but death row offenders deemed innocent would get $100,000 per year wrongfully incarcerated. He'd made other concessions, he said, so that prosecutors would cease to oppose it. He also mentioned that the entity established to recommend eyewitness identification procedures would recommend language for future legislation - that wasn't clear to me from the original draft, but it sounds like it'll be in the substitute.

Grits previewed these bills earlier. You can listen to these wrongfully convicted men tell in their own words why they support them - here's video of the committee hearing from this morning. The committee reconvened briefly this afternoon and all three bills were voted out favorably to the full Senate.

UPDATE: See initial MSM coverage from AP and Texas Politics.

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