Thursday, June 26, 2008

BREAKING NEWS: Patrick Waller latest Dallas DNA exoneree; case shows need for 'blind' administrators for police lineups

Hot of the presses, the Dallas County District Attorney's Office issued a press release at 8:22 p.m. this evening announcing yet another innocent Dallas man has been exonerated by DNA evidence and will soon be released 16 years after his wrongful conviction and incarceration. Here's the text:
Patrick Waller is Dallas County’s 18th Wrongfully Convicted Citizen; DNA results clear him of 1992 robbery and kidnapping convictions

(DALLAS – June 26, 2008) – Today, the Dallas County District Attorney’s (DA) Office announced that Patrick Waller, 38, is the County’s latest wrongfully convicted citizen. Waller, who is represented by Gary Udashen, has spent the past 16 years in prison and was serving a life sentence for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon, along with two 30-year sentences for aggravated kidnapping which arose from the same incident. He is the 18th person in Dallas County cleared of crimes by DNA evidence.

“Technological advances in science have proved another Dallas County man’s innocence and identified the actual perpetrator, but because the statute of limitations has run on these offenses, the State cannot prosecute the two men who did this 16 years ago,” said Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins. “This is a perfect example of why I plan to address the current statute of limitations on certain offenses during the 2009 Legislative session in Austin. It is a gross understatement to say that we are displeased with the fact that we cannot seek justice for the victims in this case because of the laws back in 1992.”

On the night of March 25, 1992, a man and his wife were abducted from the West End in downtown Dallas at gunpoint by two men. This occurred as the couple was returning to their parked vehicle. The two abductors kidnapped the couple in their vehicle, forced one of the victims to drive to an ATM in the Oak Cliff community of Dallas and then forced them to withdraw the maximum amount of cash that could be withdrawn from the bank account in one transaction, which was $200. The two abductors then made them drive to an abandoned house. The two men forced the couple inside the house at gunpoint, made them disrobe, tied them up in the basement and sexually assaulted the woman.

Testimony from Mr. Waller’s trial reveals that sometime during this episode, another couple drove up to the abandoned house and the man got out of the vehicle to relieve himself. One of the abductors, identified in court during the 1992 trial as Waller, approached the couple, forced them inside the house at gunpoint and assaulted them with his Tech 9 firearm. The second couple also was forced to disrobe and tied up in the basement with the first couple. The woman from the second couple made a remark about her feminine hygiene product and, at about the same time, a DISD security officer drove past the house — both of which, apparently contributed to scaring the two abductors off without sexually assaulting the second woman. One abductor left the scene in the first couple’s vehicle and the other abductor left in the second couple’s vehicle.

Approximately one week later, Waller’s photo was put in a photo line-up by the Dallas Police Department for reasons that are unclear and three of the four victims picked him out as one of the abductors, resulting in Waller’s arrest. The testimony at trial indicates that the fourth victim (the woman who was sexually assaulted) later picked him out of a live line-up.

There was never a second suspect. Waller testified at his trial that he had nothing to do with the offense and knew nothing about it. He also presented alibi witnesses; however, the jury convicted him and sentenced him to life in prison for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon.

As part of the Conviction Integrity Unit’s DNA Review initiative, the DNA from the sexual assault kit in Waller’s case was tested late last year (2007). Testing was paid for by the Innocence Project of Texas. The DNA test results concluded that there was only one male profile present and that profile was not from Patrick Waller. During the DA’s investigation, the Conviction Integrity Unit ran the unknown male profile through the Texas Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) CODIS Convicted Offender File, which is a national database of DNA profiles from convicted offenders.

Through CODIS, the unknown male profile came back as a match to Byron Bell, who when confronted about the 1992 crime, confessed to committing the offense. Bell said that his co-actor in that offense was, a 19-year-old (at the time of the offense) African-American male named Mondo Green, whom he had not seen since the night of the offense. Bell later passed a polygraph test as to the identity of his co-actor. Bell also said that he had a 9 mm Glock that night but never carried or used a Tech 9 and did not remember Mondo having one.

The DA’s Office, working with the Dallas Police Department in reinvestigating the case, established that a man by the name of Lemondo Simmons had been associated with the address where Bell said Mondo Green’s grandmother lived. After Bell passed a polygraph as to the identity of his co-actor, they found Simmons and the State subpoenaed him to appear before the grand jury on June 25, 2008.

Because grand jury proceedings are secret and cannot be disclosed, the DA’s Office is prohibited from releasing any of the testimony from that hearing without a court order. However, it is confirmed by the DA’s Office that Mr. Simmons, who unfortunately cannot be prosecuted for the crimes because of the expired statute of limitations, confessed to committing the offense with Bell in 1992.

A previous request by Waller for post-conviction DNA testing was denied prior to District Attorney Craig Watkins’ administration. Records indicate Waller was the third inmate from Dallas County to file a Chapter 64 motion for post-conviction DNA testing after the statute was passed in 2001.
This one blows my mind: In this case four different witnesses wrongly identified the defendant as the perpetrator - three in photo arrays and one in a live lineup - but we now know they were all unquestionably wrong!

Those kind of seemingly unfathomable results make me think about research I've been reading recently on "The Role of Interviewer Behavior in Eyewitness Suggestibility" in prep for my new consulting gig with the Innocence Project of Texas. Unless Waller was simply a dead ringer for one of the actual perpetrators, which can certainly happen, it's hard not to think that biased interviewers somehow influenced these eyewitness IDs, and that the lack of double-blind identification procedures may have contributed to Waller's false conviction.

Faulty eyewitness identifications are the leading cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, but I've never before heard of a case where four different witnesses misidentified the same man in varying versions of police lineups!

I'd like to see police departments shift to these best practices regarding eyewitness ID of their own accord, but since the likelihood of that happening en masse is slim to none, it's definitely time for the Lege to require them to do so in 2009. I'm sick of reading these exoneration stories only to discover that the police practices causing the false conviction are still common as dirt today.


Anonymous said...

Statute of limitations? If I were one of the victims, there'd be some justice--pliers and a blowtorch. And I'd be smart enough to get away with it.

Anonymous said...

The statute of limitations should not be changed! Police and Prosecutors need to do their job correctly the first time.

The emphasis should be on the public safety aspects of punishing evil doers. Convicting the "right" person decades after the harm just doesn't do much for public safety during the intervening decades.

Identification and release of the wrongfuly convicted needs to happen in a matter of years, not decades. The justice machine moves far too slowly.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the points of the story have been muddled. The truth is Patrick Waller was indeed present that night and attacked me, terroized me and threatened to kill me. He stood less than 2 feet away from me and I emblazoned his face in my mind and I was not misled, coerced, or compromised when I identified him from many, many pages of photos.

There were two men present that night involved with the crime, and according to the other woman who got raped, both men raped her, but one man could not maintain an erection, and did not ejaculate.

The second man who also commited the crime has been caught. The other person (Mondo) who now claims to have been involved is most certainly NOT the man who committed the crime against me that night.

I do not consider myself a victim. I used my head that night and there was a point in the ongoing terror of that ordeal that I thought I was about to be killed. But Patrick turned on his heel and left.

His DNA not being present does not prove him innocent of the crime for which he was incarcerated: aggravated robbery and aggravated assault. It was not the rape case against the other woman.

I am being encouraged to accept this faulty arguement and go with "science" as they are about to release a man-exonnerate him-and say he has been wrongfully convicted. I do not believe that justice is being served in this case. If indeed Waller is released on Thursday, it will exemplify a gross miscarriage of justice.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To the complainant in Waller's case, I'm sorry you feel there was an injustice done here and can only imagine what a bizarre and unhappy situation this puts you in.

However, I'm curious what you think about the overall phenomenon of DNA exonerations and eyewitness ID problems in particular. There has been a great deal of scientific research showing that, for most people, fear doesn't "emblazon" an image in their minds, it inspires a flight mechanism which makes them less likely to focus in on details. I guess my question is, even if you weren't coerced or misled, do you leave open any room at all for the idea you simply made a mistake? I don't know the details of this case beyond what's been made public, but am aware of other instances where DNA 100% conclusively eliminated a suspect and a witness/victim clung to their identification. Maybe for the reasons you mentioned, the DNA isn't so conclusive in this case (I don't know), but the Dallas DA thought so. Do you simply not think such an error is remotely possible?

I pose the question hesitantly but hope you'll share your reaction. If I were you I'd be P.O.'ed six ways from Sunday. It's a really messed up situation, both for you and, if he's actually innocent, for Patrick Waller. I wish you never had to go through any of it.

Anonymous said...

I agree that DNA testing has been useful in exonerating innocent people. I agree that the criminal justice system is flawed and that is an important reason why I oppose the death penalty. Regarding this case, I can say that, again, it does not prove that Waller did not attack me and terrorize me. I will prepare a statement, and illuminate details that obviously the new investigators are overlooking.

As for research into flight response, etc... Yes I was afraid when he pistol whipped me with the Tec-9 and dragged me out of the car. But as my blood poured down my face, and I watched him repeatedly beat my companion, another instinct prevailed. As he forced us along the path into that house and as we saw the other couple, I knew that I had to be clear. I chose all my words deliberately and held my calm. The ordeal lasted approximately 11-15 minutes and I had many opportunities to clearly look my would-be murderer in the face. And as previously mentioned, I emblazoned his face in my mind. Because when he held the Tec-9 at my head and said "bitch, you wanna die? Do you want to die?" and the moment streched on as I waited to see what he would do, I wanted to know the face of the man who would kill me.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I have no doubt that those 11-15 minutes created a strong impression and vivid memory. But I also wonder if, with blood streaming down your face, while watching your friend being beaten, while being pistol whipped yourself, while focused on the menacing gun, etc., how much of that time was spent studying the assailants face to have it accurately "emblazoned." I say that partially b/c so much has happened - the trial, 16 intervening years, etc. - during which the first-order assumption Waller did it could equally "emblazon" his face in your mind as the overarching symbol of what happened. That would be understandable, whether he's innocent or not.

You're in an awkward, weird position here, and I don't mean to put you on the spot. I know for sure that you are sure, and didn't feel coerced or manipulated, and I'm sorry for what happened to you, then and now. I very much appreciate you sharing your views on such a sensitive topic.

Anonymous said...

to anonymous. i noticed today that mr. waller had a gold tooth when he talked. obviously, you should have noticed this when this happened. when the police asked you for identifying features did you mention this? this should have been noticed if indeed mr. waller committed the crime. somehow i do not think a district attorney would let a guilty man out and if you will read the innocence project website you will see most if not all of the innocent people have been put in prison because of misidentification. maybe you just don't want to admit that you put an innocent man in prison and robbed him of his life with his family and children. i feel for you as i have been a victim myself but we have to face the truth and i don't think you are facing the real truth here that mr. waller is innocent and he is also a victim here.

Anonymous said...

To the young lady who had to endure this horrible incident I must say you are very brave. I am curious however about the entire ordeal. Can you give me any more information about this case. Thanks

Anonymous said...

I am glad he is released but he ain't doing shit but being a whore like he was before and a dl brother. I wish him well and hope he remembers all those that he has hurt.

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