Sunday, January 12, 2014

Houston man claims DA's office knew of exonerating DNA results, left him in prison

In Houston, a man named Reginald Matthews on Thursday held a press conference hoping to prod the Harris County DA into expediting his exoneration after discovering that DNA results, which weren't available until after his 1991 jury trial, showed he wasn't the perpetrator. According to the Houston Chronicle ("Houston man who spent 14 years in prison claims he was wrongly convicted," Jan. 10):
Matthews was convicted of burglary of a habitation to commit a sexual assault after a woman reported that a man broke into her southeast Houston home and took off his clothes.
The naked man fled after being seen by the woman and her younger sister.
Minutes later, a police officer stopped Matthews, who was clothed, about two blocks away and took him to the scene of the crime. Matthews said the victim did not identify him. Instead, he said, the victim's sister who saw the attacker just for a moment identified him.
Matthews said the first DNA test on the clothes left behind at the scene was not conclusive, but DNA tests completed after he was convicted in 1991 cleared him.

Those results, he said, were buried in his court file where he found them in 2009, years after poring over his records after being released.

His supporters said Thursday that it is another wrongful conviction hidden behind inaction.
"Science exonerated this man," said activist Deric Muhammad. "Someone at the District Attorney's office had this information while he languished in a jail cell. They just let him sit there - for 14 years."
The situation led Matthews' supporters to demand answers. ...

The prosecutor who handled the case in 1990 was Mark Vinson, who said he did not remember the case and had not reviewed the file. But, he said, he would if asked.

"I'll go down and take a look at the file if the District Attorney's office asks me," said Vinson, who has since retired. "In 22 years, I put a lot of people away. I can't remember them all."
Matthews said he told the Harris County DA about his discovery in 2009, but "Jeff McShan, a spokesman for the office, would only say that Matthews' case is under review." Reportedly they have met with him several times. Something seems hinky if, four years after he brought it to their attention, the DA's office still won't speak up to corroborate or deny Matthews' characterization of the forensic results.

If it's really true that exonerating DNA results came back after a conviction and the DA never told Matthews' defense counsel, much less sought his release, that's incredibly damning. If Matthews' account is accurate, it bespeaks either incompetence or cynical callousness. Sooner than later, the HCDAO needs to confirm or dispute these allegations. Or else Matthews should just file a habeas corpus writ claiming actual innocence and make them confront the question. It's difficult to understand why that hasn't already happened.


Anonymous said...

That is something that seems very systemic within the Texas court system and elsewhere. Prosecutors will do all they can to put someone into prison, innocent or not and when evidence that would vindicate the accused is presented, they fail to do their job insofar as expediting the persons release.

It appears that "innocent until proven guilty" has been replaced with "guilty until you can prove you are innocent" or run out of money to fight the system.

Anonymous said...

As much as you hate to hear it, I'll state it again; if Reginald Matthews were to go postal this type of crap would end pretty damn quick. The first thing that would occur would be a hearing to see how something like that could happen and to see how it could be prevented in the future. I'm not advocating Matthews to take this route and I hope he doesn't. But I am saying it would draw enough publicity that it would force new laws to be created so a repeat wouldn't occur because the DA's were corrupt.