Tuesday, December 17, 2013

San Antonio Four case, Texas junk science writ lauded in national press

Attorney Mike Ware and Elizabeth Ramirez/AP
A couple of national stories - from USA Today and Time magazine deserve Grits' readers attention related to the San Antonio Four case and Texas' new law allowing habeas corpus writs for convictions based on junk science. Mike Ware, pictured at right, who's a member of the Innocence Project of Texas board of directors, was lead attorney on the case. The new law was championed in the Texas Legislature by state Sen. John Whitmire and state Rep. Sylvester Turner. Here's a notable excerpt from the Time magazine story, in which your correspondent was quoted:
 [I]t was unlikely the San Antonio Four would have walked free without the passage of the so-called “junk science” law earlier this year. Habeas writs based on new evidence are very difficult to win, according to legal experts, especially in Texas courts.

The seeds of change were sown in 1999, the first year of prison life for the San Antonio Four. That July, a drug task force raided a poor, black community in the Panhandle town of Tulia, sweeping up scores of residents. Perry later pardoned 35 defendants, casting a shadow on law enforcement practices in rural Texas. That same year, convicted rapist Timothy Cole died in prison, 14 years into a 25-year sentence.  He had refused to admit guilt in exchange for parole, and was later exonerated by DNA evidence.

More people have been exonerated by DNA evidence in Texas than any other state, according to the National Innocence Project, which puts the state’s total 48 ahead of Illinois with 43 and New York with 27.

“The DNA exonerations have changed the terms of the debate for everyone,” says Scott Henson, policy director for the Innocence Project of Texas, which lobbied for the “junk science” law and several other similar measures.

Henson credits Republican lawmakers open to religious appeals for changing attitudes about criminal justice, beginning in 2003 when the party took control of both houses of the state legislature. Under GOP control, the statehouse reduced sentences for drug possession and ended the state’s prison-building boom.

“Over the past several cycles we had more and more religious conservatives coming into the legislature,” Henson says. “These are folks who hear these stories and tend to be moved by the DNA exonerees who come to the capitol. Hearing their stories — Christ was an innocent man hung on the Cross and here are these innocents — it resonated with them.”


Anonymous said...

A major step in the right direction for people wrongly convicted. That's for sure.

An Attorney said...

Something that Texas can lead in and of which Texans can be proud. We make big mistakes and then, eventually, make efforts to correct them, albeit belatedly.

albeed said...

Thanks Scott!

An attorney said:

"Something that Texas can lead in and of which Texans can be proud. We make big mistakes and then, eventually, make efforts to correct them, albeit belatedly."

I agree. Unlike the US which can make big mistakes and then, eventually, only make them worse by passing more vague laws and Supreme Court rulings.

Anonymous said...

If Texas prosecutors, judges, lawyers and juries did their jobs correctly in the first place, we wouldn't need exonerations, because we wouldn't have any wrongful convictions!! "Innocent until PROVEN Guilty". In my opinion, Meaning if there is not definite DNA, photo(s) and/or video linking a defendant to a said crime, then the outcome should be an AQUITTAL! No ifs, ands, or buts. Photo lineups and so called witnesses are a joke in my book.

Anonymous said...

The standard for conviction is not "guilt beyond any doubt". It is "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Because of that, there will always be a need for exonerations.