Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Dallas sees 17th DNA exoneration

Dallas County saw its 17th DNA exoneration today, with the release of James Lee Woodward, who was wrongly convicted after prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence from his lawyers and police failed to investigate it. Woodard's was a case where nobody needed DNA evidence to tell Woodard didn't get a fair trial, reported the News:

James Lee Woodard was seeking a new trial at the 1981 hearing, alleging that prosecutors did not fully disclose information about Ms. Jones' whereabouts the night she was killed. The judge, John Ovard, who was also the trial judge, denied the new trial and formally sentenced him.

The judge and the district attorney's office could have righted Mr. Woodard's wrongful conviction in 1981, just months later, said Natalie Roetzel, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas.

"It's one of the most disturbing things about this case," she said. "Essentially, that was ignored because the investigators had the suspect they wanted."

Would stronger "Brady" rules (the court case requiring prosecutors to disclose exculpatory evidence) or penalties for violating them have kept Woodard out of prison for a crime he didn't commit? That's the kind of outcome you hear referred to as "getting off on a technicality," but Woodard's case shows why those "technicalities" are there - to prevent wrongful convictions.

How many other Texas defendants in cases without DNA were also wrongly convicted after Brady claims were denied on appeal? There's no way to tell, but there needs to be some way to ensure prosecutors hand over all the information they're supposed to give defendants. When you're aiming to eliminate someone's liberty for decades, that's not the time to be playing hide the ball.

Woodard was another case spearheaded with the Dallas DA by the Innocence Project of Texas - good job, folks!


Anonymous said...

One way "to ensure prosecutors hand over all the information they're supposed to give defendants" is to have those prosecutors severely and publicly sanctioned by the State Bar of Texas. The prosecutors responsible for this miscarriage of justice may be dead by now, or no longer prosecuting. If they are still alive, the State Bar should find them to have committed violations of the Bar's rules of eithical conduct, and give them, at the least, public reprimands.

Dont' hold your breath waiting for this to happen.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the person who posted above. They, and the judge should be sanctioned. Too often, prosecutors are all to ready to get a conviction at all costs, rather than to see to it that justice is served. Judges go along with this, because they, like the prosecutors have to run for re-election. Get a tag of being "soft on crime" and you are out of office. Pity the poor slob who cannot afford the likes of Racehorse Haynes or Jack Zimmerman.

Anonymous said...

Over here, we have the Crown Prossecution Service who decide whether a retrial will happen, NOT the original trial judge. No one likes to admit they might be wrong, and I really dont understand why anyone thinks its a good idea to have the same people presiding over both parts of the appeal system. We also have a rule whereby if evidence is presented to the CPS that wasnt available in the original trial, then a retrial is almost always granted. Its very simple. but it encourages all sides to disclose everything so that any conviction is secure.