Thursday, April 05, 2012

IPOT announces trio of non-DNA exonerations out of Dallas

My employers at the Innocence Project of Texas issued a press release this morning about Texas' latest exoneration, another non-DNA case solved by actually finding the real perpetrators:
Innocence Project of Texas


The Innocence Project of Texas, in conjunction with Houston Attorney Tracey Cobb and the Dallas Law Firm of Sorrels, Udashen & Anton announces the exoneration of three wrongfully convicted persons.  On April 6, 2012, at 9:00 a.m., Darryl Washington, Shakara Robertson and Marcus Lashun Smith will appear before Judge Lena Levario of the 204th District Court in Dallas County for a hearing where it is expected that they will be declared innocent of the Aggravated Robbery offense they were charged with in 1994.
Mr. Washington, Mr. Robertson and Mr. Smith were arrested in November of 1994 and charged with aggravated robbery of an elderly person based on a purse snatching from an elderly woman.  The three men, along with two juveniles, were arrested and accused of committing the offense.  Mr. Washington was tried to a jury and received a 99-year prison sentence.  Mr. Robertson and Mr. Smith subsequently accepted plea bargain for probation in order to avoid Mr. Washington’s fate.
The case against the three men consisted of erroneous eyewitness identifications.  The men’s innocence was proven when Houston Attorney Tracey Cobb, while still a law student at the University of Houston Law School and working with the law school Innocence Network, began investigating Mr. Washington’s case. After her graduation from law school, Ms. Cobb doggedly continued her investigation, locating the men who actually committed the aggravated robbery.  Ms. Cobb was able to obtain affidavits from these men admitting their role in the offense and confirming that Mr. Washington, Mr. Robertson and Mr. Smith were completely innocent.
Ms. Cobb enlisted the assistance of the Innocence Project of Texas, through its President Gary Udashen, to assist her in the representation of Mr. Washington.  IPOT also agreed to take on the representation of Mr. Robertson and Mr. Smith through volunteer attorneys Bruce Anton and Robert N. Udashen. The Udashens and Mr. Anton are partners in the Dallas Law Firm of Sorrels, Udashen & Anton.
Ms. Cobb and IPOT worked closely with Craig Watkins and the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit on this case.  Russell Wilson and Cynthia Garza, prosecutors with the District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, conducted their own investigation and ultimately concluded that the three men were innocent of the charges.
On March 2, 2012, a daylong hearing was held before Judge Levario where four of the five men who actually committed this offense testified and admitted their involvement.  The fifth man is deceased. Judge Levario also heard testimony from Mr. Washington, Mr. Robertson and Mr. Smith as well as two juveniles who were arrested with them. At the close of the testimony, Judge Levario made oral findings that Mr. Washington, Mr. Robertson and Mr. Smith were actually innocent.
The hearing on April 6, 2012, will be the formal entry of Judge Levario’s findings of actual innocence.
The Innocent Project of Texas acknowledges the excellent work of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, which has led to the anticipated exoneration of these three men and has previously led to the exoneration of over 25 other wrongfully convicted persons from Dallas County.


Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, what a wonderful day it is in the Non-DNA, Non-Death Row neighborhood. Now, if only this momentum would continue.

Welcome Home, fellow humans & victims of the system. You will soon find out through personal research (GFB is a great place to start) that they (Bad Cops) were enticed to falsely arrest at will, and they (Rogue ADAs) were enabled by lazy-ass Judges to subsequently convicted folks of all; races, sexes, political preferences, financial backgrounds & zip codes. You’ll discovery that your jury wasn’t the first to be denied all evidence and you weren’t alone in being forced to decide between 99 years or friggin probation despite being not guilty. You’ll have a choice to either take the money and run or become Public Heroes in personal endeavors’ to prevent history from repeating and prevent the historically ignored claims from being ignored.

*The actions of Ms. Tracy Cobb are so rare and few that it's imperative that we go above and beyond in recognizing her as a real life Public Hero. Therefore, I nominate her and only seek a second. It should also be pointed out that the attorneys, IPOT, & Conviction Integrity Unit that believed in her enough to put their name(s) and firm(s) on the line in the attempt to seek true justice be equally recognized. It would nice if they came forward and asked / demanded that if an attorney wishes to devote his / her area of practice to the niche of Criminal Defense (even if it’s just for one felony case in a lifetime) that; he / she commit to at least one pro bono case involving a Non-DNA. Non-Death Row all the way to verdict or a Closed / Inactive claim where 'Appealing' it wasn't possible due to 'Play Bargain' Games & ask others to follow suit. This could be the end of “Cherry Picking” as we have grown to know it.

The public has plenty of Projects, Exonerated Groups, Senators & Professors already fighting the good fight for the other claims. Good luck in your endeavors' and we look forward meeting you. Thanks.

Christine Harris said...

Many studies and cases have shown how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be. The Innocence Project is a great program and does a lot of great work, it is unfortunate they have limited resources and cannot take on more cases. The men who testified against Washington, Robertson and Smith had an incentive to lie to get a reduced sentence—their testimony should have been brought into question from the start.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, Ms. C. H's. comment (above) warrants further conversation due to it touching on various levels of concern that we get asked about but end up deferring to the IPOT. If you'd be so kind to assist, it'd be appreciated by many. Thanks in advance.

*First, since the IPOT operates on "limited resources", please tell us how the project obtains funding & how the public at large can assist in expanding the account in an effort to reach more claims?

*Second, since the IPOT only considers claims where DNA holds the key & Non-DNA claims where all appeals have been exhausted, please tell us why the project chose to exclude un-appealed claims. Claims involving defendants advised to stop the trial to plea bargain for 10 years and under just because they were on probation at time of arrest? (FWIT, once the defendant is tricked into plea bargaining he/she isn't told that they have only 30 days to appeal, they don't rec. copies of what they signed in Chambers & everyone knows that the next couple of months are a living hell void of law libraries.) With that, one can see that this leaves 95 plus percent of the claims untouched and ignored like they don't matter.

*Third, could you tell us how much the professors & the attorneys pull down annually, or do they write it off as pro-bono work? Basically asking if it's a paid gig or not. Despite the case, I bet it's not near enough and therefore the entire staff deserves our gratitude and appreciation.