Dallas County Sets Wrongful Conviction Records

Dallas County just set two records. James Lee Woodard is the latest of 17 wrongfully convicted defendants in Dallas County who have been released as the result of new DNA analysis, the most DNA exonerations of any county. Dallas County also kept Woodard behind bars for more time than any other inmate who has been exonerated by DNA.

Mr. Woodard, 55, was sentenced to life in prison in 1981 for the strangulation and rape of his 21-year-old girlfriend, Beverly Ann Jones. But information that Ms. Jones was with three men – including two later convicted of unrelated sexual assaults – around the time of her death was not disclosed to the defense nor was it thoroughly investigated, said prosecutor Mike Ware, who oversees the Dallas County district attorney's office conviction integrity unit.

Rodney Ellis, a member of the Texas Senate, has been trying to get the state to fund an Innocence Commission. He's organized a forum to be held next week that will focus on the prevention of wrongful convictions. Jeralyn has more here.

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    The Real Reason (none / 0) (#1)
    by daryl herbert on Thu May 01, 2008 at 10:04:00 PM EST
    It's not that Dallas County is the worst county in the worst state.

    It's because Dallas used a private lab to do DNA work, and the lab saved its DNA samples.

    If the government-run labs in other counties across America had saved their samples, we would see similar exonerations.

    A lot of innocent men are still in prison because government labs threw out the evidence.

    This is astounding (none / 0) (#4)
    by BarnBabe on Fri May 02, 2008 at 07:27:50 AM EST
    So labs threw out the evidence from so many years ago and many innocent people have to rot in jail.  Terrible. You do not bring back 25 years of a person's life. Ever. And there are probably people who died there also. And probably guilty men on the street who committed the same crime again elsewhere. The numbers are really starting to rack up. Just terrible.

    good luck on that. (none / 0) (#2)
    by cpinva on Thu May 01, 2008 at 11:57:33 PM EST
    He's organized a forum to be held next week that will focus on the prevention of wrongful convictions.

    the thing i've noticed over the years, about "law & order" states and political candidates, is that the truth never really seems to be part of that equation. when the only person who stands to suffer, as the result of overzealous prosecutors, lazy/incompetent police, inadequate legal representation and grandstanding elected judges is the defendant, why should anyone else care?

    there have been far too many cases like this in texas (and who knows how many more we've not heard about?), for it to be simply a statistical aberration. the problems in their criminal justice system are institutional. the whole thing needs to be torn out by roots, and started from scratch.

    The new Dallas DA, (none / 0) (#3)
    by mulletov cocktails on Fri May 02, 2008 at 07:19:56 AM EST
    Exactly what I was thinking.... (none / 0) (#5)
    by kdog on Fri May 02, 2008 at 08:34:02 AM EST
    Good luck with that.

    Is there a state in the union with a worse human rights record than Texas over the last 20-30 years?  I can't think of one...

    Mr. Ellis has his work cut out for him.


    Change that title line (none / 0) (#6)
    by wmr on Fri May 02, 2008 at 09:10:02 AM EST
    This story should be a positive, not a negative.

    It is simple common sense that we can never know what particular court system made the greatest number of wrongful convictions.  Here, the Dallas DA has bravely chosen to re-examine the evidence more frequently than in the past.

    The deplorable state of the justice system in Texas is a separate issue.  These exonerations should be a mark of honor for the current DA.

    Very misleading (none / 0) (#7)
    by txpublicdefender on Fri May 02, 2008 at 11:48:39 AM EST
    I agree with a couple others here that the post and its title are misleading.  I was a public defender in Dallas for a few years and I am the first to admit that it is a conviction-oriented county.  Jurors convict on flimsy evidence, prosecutors have no real concept of their Brady obligations, and the judges have often been nothing but Yes men and women for the State.  All that said, I am sure that there are many other counties that would have a similar rate of wrongful convictions if we could actually know the whole truth.  But the recently elected DA in Dallas has actually started an entire unit that works with the Innocence Project to review questionable cases, even those that don't have DNA.  He also reversed the previous police--and hte policy in pretty much every other DA office across the country--of systematically opposing requests for DNA evidence.  And yes, the crime lab that they use, unlike many others across the country, never tosses the evidence, so they are much more likely to have evidence from even very old cases where all appeals have been exhausted, like Mr. Woodard's.

    So, when talking about Dallas setting a record, please provide some context.  Prosecutors around the country should want to follow the example of Mr. Watkins, and if the majority of stories that get reported use the fact of the multiple exonerations to cast the county in a bad light, I don't think that helps that effort.

    typo (none / 0) (#8)
    by txpublicdefender on Fri May 02, 2008 at 11:49:34 AM EST
    should be "previous policy," not "previous police"