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mykarma
May 4th, 2008, 11:47 PM
DNA Helps Free Inmate After 27 Years

May 4, 2008(CBS) There's been some bitter soul searching going on in Dallas County, as one man after another is being released from prison after being convicted, years ago, of crimes they did not commit. As correspondent Scott Pelley reports, it happened again just last week with the release of a man who had been proclaiming his innocence, behind bars, for 27 years.


So far, 17 men have been cleared in Dallas - that's more than most states. All were put on trial by prosecutors who worked for the legendary District Attorney Henry Wade. Wade was Dallas' top prosecutor for more than 30 years. He never lost a case he handled personally. But it turns out the record of Wade's office was too good to be true. And now, a new Dallas district attorney is focusing on the Wade legacy - it's a search for innocent men waiting to be exonerated.



James Woodard went away in 1981, convicted in the murder of his girlfriend who had been raped and strangled. He was prosecuted by the office of District Attorney Henry Wade. For nearly 30 years, he never gave up writing letters, and filing motions. But no one was willing to grant him a hearing-until now.

60 Minutes was there last year when Woodard gave the DNA sample that would determine his true guilt or innocence. Since 2001, there has been a series of men in Dallas County who have walked from prison into freedom.


The exonerated include Eugene Henton, James Waller, who did almost 11 years, Greg Wallis, who was in for nearly 19, and James Giles, who did 10 years; Billy Smith was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and served nearly 20 years for a crime he didn't commit.


James Waller rejected a plea bargain for a rape he didn't commit. "They offered me three years. I turned it down. And I said, 'We go to trial.' And I came out with 30 years," he tells Pelley.


Asked why he turned down the deal, Waller says, "I know one day that I was gonna have to die, and I didn't want to go before God saying I did something that I didn't do."


"Greg, what did you lose in all that time?" Pelley asks.

"Well, I didn't get to see my boy growing up. He was two and a half when I left," Wallis says.

Wallis says his son is now 22 years old.


"To me, an apology, it won't do, because an apology can't bring back the time that I spent. It can't bring back my loved ones my loved ones. I lost ten family members while I was incarcerated. I never got to go to the funeral of any one of them. There are a lot of things that I could say that I lost. But then there's a lot of things that I could say that I can't tell you what I lost, 'cause I don't know," Billy Smith says.


"What do you mean you don't know what you lost?" Pelley asks.


"It's just like a part of me that's just gone. You know? I'm 20 years behind time. I was 35 when I got arrested. I'm 55 now," Smith explains. "But when I was ready for release, I wasn't excited about getting out. I still don't understand that today."


Asked how he could not be excited about getting out after all that time, Smith says, "Well, that's a part of me that I lost."


Michelle Moore and Jeff Blackburn are lawyers for The Innocence Project of Texas (http://ipoftexas.org/), a nonprofit group investigating wrongful prosecutions.


"What was the history of the Dallas County DA's office from, say, the 1950's to the 1990's," Pelley asks.


"Prosecute at all costs," Moore says. "It doesn't matter what they have as far as evidence. But if they've got anything that could tie this person into the case, then they were going to pursue the case against that person, even if it meant that they overlooked other suspects in a crime."


"Dallas got a reputation as the hardest, roughest county in the state. This was the one county that you did not wanna get accused of a crime in, because in this county, if you got charged with a crime you were likely gonna go to prison," Blackburn adds.


It was the late Henry Wade, a Texas legend, who ran the district attorney's office from 1951 to 1987.


Wade prosecuted Jack Ruby in the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. He's the Wade in "Roe v. Wade," the abortion case. His deputies played hardball, but Moore says they didn't always play by the rules.


"And we have found, in some of those cases, that there was evidence that was not given over to the defense. So, the defense could not adequately prepare," she tells Pelley.


"You're saying that prosecutors had evidence that suggested innocence, and they didn't pass that on to the defense attorneys?" Pelley asks.


"That's correct," Moore says.

"But that's the law, isn't it?" Pelley asks.


"It is the law, but there's no penalty for prosecutors who don't give over evidence. You get a slap on the hand but you still get promoted because you got the conviction," Moore says.


"Prosecutors break the law, pay no penalty," Blackburn says. "Men get wrongfully convicted, and they can't get out because the system conspires to cover up their case. That's a crooked system."


The investigation of the Wade legacy picked up speed last year when Craig Watkins became the district attorney in Dallas-the first black D.A. in the history of Texas. His office is now spending $400,000 a year looking back at old cases.


"We have a responsibility to go back and right the wrongs of the past and free the innocent," Watkins tells Pelley.


"You know, some people say that you're wasting time and money that you're looking back at these old cases when you're sitting in the middle of the city that has the highest crime rate in the nation," Pelley remarks.


"You know, I disagree with that," Watkins says. "The job of the district attorney is to seek justice. And when justice has failed, then we have to fix it."


"You know, we were sitting with some of these men who'd been in prison for 20 years, been in prison longer than that and as I was sitting there, it occurred to me that if these guys sat in prison that long, it's likely that somebody who didn't commit the crime was executed. Do you fear that that's the case?" Pelley asks.


"I fear that and that causes me to lose sleep every day," Watkins says.


In an almost revolutionary step, Watkins has teamed up with The Innocence Project of Texas, opening all of the prosecution files to the project's lawyers and law students. He's backing them with subpoena power so they can get a hold of witnesses and evidence. The students are opening files that have been closed, some since the 1970's.



"We take a lot for granted, I think. And we say, 'Oh, well, if the state, if the government said that he did it, he obviously did.' But that's not necessarily true," one of the students told Pelley.


The students said they don't get paid or college credit for their work.

Asked what they are getting out of the experience, one of the students said, "Well, the satisfaction that I'm doing something for people who can't do it themselves."


Law student Alexis Hoff selected James Woodard's file for review, almost three decades after he went to prison, convicted of killing his girlfriend.


60 Minutes was with them last November when Hoff started questioning Woodard, along with The Innocence Project's Michelle Moore.

"James, at any point in time during this process, did you ever admit to being guilty of this?" Moore asked.

"No, ma'am," Woodard replied.

"What is your ultimate goal?" Moore asked.

"To clear my name," he replied.


Woodard gave a DNA sample back in November; it was processed by the Orchid Cellmark lab in Dallas. In most places it wouldn't be possible to reach back years for a DNA match, but Dallas has an unusual policy of saving physical evidence from cases that are decades old.

This past Monday, Alexis Hoff and Jeff Blackburn brought James Woodard the results of his DNA test.

"The conclusion of the test was that there was not a match. It means that someone else raped Beverly Ann Jones," Hoff told Woodard. "It is my honor to be here today to tell you that after spending 27 years in jail for a crime that you did not commit you will walk out of this courthouse tomorrow, a free man."


"I'm speechless. Thatís about it. Youíll have to give me a minute to gather myself, to sink this all in," Woodard reacted.

When Woodard went to prison in 1981, Alexis Hoff had not yet been born.

"I mean, don't crack jokes now," Woodard said.

"No. Itís really happening. I know," Hoff replied.

"Are you sure I get out tomorrow?" Woodard asked.

"Yep," Blackburn said.


The next day, last Tuesday, James Woodard went to court. In addition to the DNA, District Attorney Watkins' office discovered that the prosecutors, 27 years ago, failed to tell the defense and the jury that Woodard's girlfriend had been in the company of another man the night of her death, a man who was charged in another sexual assault.



"Mr. Woodard, we'd like to apologize to you. Not only on the part of the district attorneyís office for the state of Texas but for the failures of the criminal justice system throughout this country," Watkins told Woodard.


State District Judge Mark Stoltz set Woodard free. "Unfortunately, Mr. Woodard you're not getting justice today. You're just getting the end of injustice," the judge said.

"It seemed like I was looking at it from afar, like a movie," Woodard tells Pelley. "It was well worth the wait I mean just to hear that, you know. Just to hear someone admit that they were wrong, they did me wrong."

Asked why it was worth the wait, Woodard says, "For so many years everyone told me, 'Well hey, youíre guilty.' I mean well let me put it this way, they treated me as if I was guilty."

When he went in, Woodard had just turned 28; he is 55 years old now.


From the very beginning, Woodard wrote letters to District Attorney Henry Wade.

"I don't know your philosophy of life but I would assume that you wouldn't take a man's freedom just because you can. That's why I keep sending these letters to you," Woodard recalls.


Wade's office wrote back to say that the letter would be referred to an assistant. Woodard never heard anything from them again.


"I have to wonder after 27 years how did you stand it?" Pelley asks.

"You can only go one day at a time ever. I donít really know myself. I just did the best I could. Just you know every day I have hope well maybe today will be a better day," Woodard says.

"You had hope?" Pelley asks.

"Thatís all a man has," Woodard says. "I had hope for parole. I think I came up about 12 times."

"When you appeared before the parole board what did they say to you?" Pelley asks.

"They always told me, as long as you deny your guilt its saying something about you, you know you are not willing to own up to your deed. And we gonna deny you," Woodard says.

But Woodard refused to admit guilt. "I wasn't guilty," he says.

"You chose truth over freedom," Pelley remarks.

"I mean, a man has to stand for something," Woodard says.


James Woodard became the 17th prisoner in Dallas to be set free after a wrongful conviction. He walked from the courthouse into a hometown he could no longer recognize. At 27 years and four months, he became the longest serving inmate in the nation to be cleared with the help of DNA. The Dallas D.A.'s office and The Innocence Project of Texas are still investigating another 250 cases.

mykarma
May 5th, 2008, 12:00 AM
I wonder how many innocent people have been put to death just in this county? These prosecutors know these people are innocent and send them to prison or to the death penalty just because.
The US needs to abolish the death penalty and prosecutors that wrongly convict people should go to jail.

*JR*
May 5th, 2008, 12:10 AM
2 comments I'd like to add.

1) In one of the now numerous TV stories about these miscarriages of justice being finally addressed, one of the men was shown working after his release sweeping the streets, which (unfairly) is a low paid occupation despite its necessity and difficulty. He told the interviewer that he was routinely rejected for other jobs because *duh* he lacked the experience after his years in prison. (And companies probably thought he might have been guilty, or if not, might NOW be unstable as a result of his confinement. Talk about adding insult to injury).

2) Obviously DNA testing (used 13 years ago in the OJ Simpson case) isn't new. And now, the imprisoned don't face much resistance to being tested. But in years past they did, often because the prosecutors had "cleared a case", and didn't want it back in the unsolved stack, whether the (generally guy) was guilty or not. (DNA isn't perfect for establishing guilt via an exact match, but a very different profile shows clearcut innocence). Incidentally, in even those states that pay for the time wrongly imprisoned, I read last year that it was between 8 and 50 dollars a day.

Wannabeknowitall
May 5th, 2008, 12:10 AM
Well someone watched 60 Minutes tonight. :lol:

As the TV coverage stated and perhaps in this article, they wouldn't have been able to do this in many areas of the US because some places do not keep physical evidence for decades.

Now the DA Henry Wade reigned for thirty years.
Can someone tell me why it took another 17 years after he left office that nothing was done when DNA samples at the time in the mid-90s could have also had some of these men out of jail.

Just so sad what these men had to go thru.

Wannabeknowitall
May 5th, 2008, 12:14 AM
2 comments I'd like to add.


2) Obviously DNA testing (used 13 years ago in the OJ Simpson case) isn't new. And now, the imprisoned don't face much resistance to being tested. But in years past they did, often because the prosecutors had "cleared a case", and didn't want it back in the unsolved stack, whether the (generally guy) was guilty or not. (DNA isn't perfect for establishing guilt via an exact match, but a very different profile shows clearcut innocence). Incidentally, in even those states that pay for the time wrongly imprisoned, I read last year that it was between 8 and 50 dollars a day.

Well that helps me to understand what happened in the 90s for some of these men.

mykarma
May 5th, 2008, 02:27 AM
This shows that even when DNA proves one's innocence they still may not get out of prison. Without the community support, Darryl probably would never have gotten out.

Darryl Hunt was convicted twice of a 1984 North Carolina murder he didn't commit. After DNA results proved his innocence in 1994, it still took 10 years of legal appeals to exonerate him.


The Crime
In the early morning hours of August 10, 1984, Deborah Sykes, a 25-year-old copy editor at a local newspaper, was raped and murdered on the outskirts of Winston-Salem, NC. Sykes had been on her way to work; she was stabbed 16 times. She was found naked from the waist down and tests revealed that there was semen on her body, indicating that she had been raped.


The Investigation and Identification
A man called 911 that morning to report an attack and identified himself as Sammy Mitchell. When police talked to Sammy Mitchell the next day, they also spoke with Hunt, who was Mitchell's friend. Mitchell told police he hadn't called 911 that night. Another man, Johnny Gray, eventually told police he had made the call.


A local man came forward and told police he had seen Sykes with an African-American man on the morning of the crime. When that man described a person who matched Darryl Hunt's description, police arranged a photo lineup. The witness tentatively identified Hunt as the man he had seen with Sykes.


Johnny Gray had identified a different man (who was in jail on the day of the crime) in a first photo lineup, but after Hunt had been identified as a suspect, Gray identified him as well.


After this, Hunt's girlfriend was arrested on outstanding larceny charges. She initially told police that she was with Hunt on the night of the crime and that he couldn't have done it. Now, under arrest, she told police that Hunt had admitted to her that he committed the crime. She recanted before trial, but prosecutors presented her statements to the jury nonetheless.


The Trials
Hunt was tried for first-degree murder in the Sykes case. Eyewitnesses brought forth by the prosecution testified that they had seen Hunt with the victim before the crime or that they had seen Hunt enter a local hotel and leave bloody towels behind in the restroom. Hunt testified on his own behalf that he didnít know the victim and had nothing to do with the crime. The jury deliberated for three days. They convicted Hunt and he was sentenced to life in prison.


On appeal, the North Carolina Supreme Court overturned the conviction because prosecutors had introduced Hunt's girlfriend's statements after she had recanted them. Hunt was released on bond in 1989. With the trial pending, Prosecutors offered Hunt a plea bargain Ė he could be freed and sentenced to time already served (five years) in exchange for a guilty plea. Hunt rejected the offer and faced a second trial.


He was retried in rural Catawba County before an all-white jury. The main eyewitnesses from the first trial testified again, and two jailhouses snitches testified that Hunt had admitted guilt to them while in prison. The jury deliberated for less than two hours and convicted Hunt of first-degree murder. Again, he was sentenced to life in prison. He had been free for 11 months.


Post-Conviction
Hunt's original trial attorney, Mark Rabil, worked on the case for nearly 20 years. After the second conviction, in which Rabil was part of a larger defense team, Rabil and another attorney, Ben Dowling-Sendor, filed for DNA testing in the case. In October 1994, DNA results came back. Hunt's DNA did not match the semen found on the victim's body at the crime scene. Despite the results, however, Hunt's appeals were rejected. Judges found that the new evidence did not prove innocence. Repeated appeals met the same fate.


Exoneration
Finally, in 2004, 19 years after Hunt was convicted and 10 years after he was first excluded by DNA, the DNA profile from the crime scene was run in the state database, at the request of Hunt's attorneys. The results matched a man incarcerated for another murder. Hunt was exonerated and freed in 2005.


Willard E. Brown, the man whose DNA matched the profile at the crime scene, has since pleaded guilty to the murder of Deborah Sykes.

mckyle.
May 5th, 2008, 03:01 AM
prosecutors that wrongly convict people should go to jail.

You're joking right? Send the prosecutors to jail because they did a good job of presenting the information to the jury?

I say send the jury to jail for convicting them :)

mykarma
May 5th, 2008, 03:27 AM
You're joking right? Send the prosecutors to jail because they did a good job of presenting the information to the jury?

I say send the jury to jail for convicting them :)
In case you missed this from the initial post.

"And we have found, in some of those cases, that there was evidence that was not given over to the defense. So, the defense could not adequately prepare," she tells Pelley.


"You're saying that prosecutors had evidence that suggested innocence, and they didn't pass that on to the defense attorneys?" Pelley asks.


"That's correct," Moore says.

"But that's the law, isn't it?" Pelley asks.


"It is the law, but there's no penalty for prosecutors who don't give over evidence. You get a slap on the hand but you still get promoted because you got the conviction," Moore says.


"Prosecutors break the law, pay no penalty," Blackburn says. "Men get wrongfully convicted, and they can't get out because the system conspires to cover up their case. That's a crooked system."
Yeah, the need to go to jail.

Sam L
May 5th, 2008, 03:40 AM
Do we have like any statistics on DNA proving that the inmate was really guilty?

All I'm saying is we only hear about how the justice system got it so wrong but how about the times when it got it right?

:confused:

*JR*
May 5th, 2008, 01:43 PM
Do we have like any statistics on DNA proving that the inmate was really guilty?

All I'm saying is we only hear about how the justice system got it so wrong but how about the times when it got it right?

:confused:
Which means what if you're wrongly imprisoned because in your case the DNA would ghave cleared you? :confused: Your insensitivity here is outrageous. :rolleyes:

And another cruel twist is how one is punished in terms of both sentencing and later parole hearings for refusing to express remorse for a crime he won't falsely admit to committing in the first place.

In terms of blaming juries though, they have no control regarding evidence withheld from them. But I could sympathize with punishing those prosecutors who've knowingly done so.

Lastly, "jailhouse snitches" are notorious for lying to get their own sentences reduced, etc.

Mforensic
May 5th, 2008, 04:09 PM
www.innocenceproject.org/

can give you those stats.

mykarma
May 5th, 2008, 10:21 PM
Do we have like any statistics on DNA proving that the inmate was really guilty?

All I'm saying is we only hear about how the justice system got it so wrong but how about the times when it got it right?

:confused:
:help: :smash::weirdo::timebomb: