Innocent Man Will Be Released From Death Row

Michael Blair has been saved from a death sentence imposed for a murder he didn't commit.

The ruling comes less than a month after prosecutors acknowledged that DNA evidence does not implicate Blair and shows that another man, now deceased, is a plausible suspect in the girl's death.

That man, identified in court papers only as Suspect No. 4, learned where 7-year-old Ashley Estell was buried and bought a plot for himself as close as he could get to her grave. He's been dead at least 10 years, according to court documents that didn't make it clear whether he was actually buried in the plot he purchased. ... Blair, now 38, was convicted in 1994 of strangling and molesting Ashley in suburban Dallas.

Blair is serving three consecutive life sentences for child sexual assaults he actually committed and to which he confessed. He maintained his innocence regarding Ashley. [more ...]

Blair was convicted largely on the strength of since-discredited testimony about hair and fibers found in his car, on a stuffed animal and on the girl's body that all allegedly matched, court records show. At the time of the slaying, Blair was on parole after serving only 18 months of a 10-year sentence for burglary and indecency with a child.

Subsequent testing was performed on male DNA found on the Plano girl's shoes and shirt, as well as on tissue taken from the victim's fingernails and hair. All of these DNA tests excluded Blair as the contributor, court records show.

Suspect No. 4 resembles Blair. He kept a scrapbook about Ashley's case, joined her church "and moved into an apartment near her school and her parents' home." DNA testing did not exclude him as the source of DNA found on Ashley's shoe.

Given Blair's history, he was an easy target for a wrongful conviction. The high profile case made him a good candidate for the death penalty. He's lucky DNA evidence was available in his case. Think of all the people on Death Rows across the country convicted of crimes that did not involve DNA evidence. If any of them were wrongly convicted, they might not be so lucky as to escape a wrongful death.

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    Well, (none / 0) (#1)
    by bocajeff on Thu Jun 26, 2008 at 10:21:12 PM EST
    Am I supposed to feel good about this story? Yeah, he shouldn't be put to death, but he's not really a good poster boy for exonerations.

    Thanks, TChris (none / 0) (#2)
    by A little night musing on Thu Jun 26, 2008 at 10:28:33 PM EST
    I don't usually comment on the death-penalty posts because I have nothing to add. But this is the kind of thing I read TalkLeft for: so a long-belated thank-you!

    And special thanks are due to those lawyers (yes! lawyers are my heroes!) who slogged through the appeals and brought this case to its current state. The defendant is not a good guy, to say the least, but apparently didn't do the thing he was convicted of doing. Our system at its best.

    The reason I write at this point is that I was thinking (guess why) today about how watching the Watergate hearings inspired a bunch of us to go into the law - suddenly we saw lawyers as heroes. I barely didn't do that, myself.

    Some lawyers, at least, are heroes, when we think we don't have any.

    Not exactly innocent, is he? (none / 0) (#3)
    by myiq2xu on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 06:45:44 AM EST
    They're just moving him to a different part of the prison.

    He is a poster boy for exoneration, IMO (none / 0) (#4)
    by txpublicdefender on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 02:03:18 PM EST
    There is much more to this case than what is here.  His trial was held in an incredibly conservative county where he stood virtually no chance of acquittal.  There was outrageous proseuctorial misconduct in the case, including not telling the defense that their star forensic analyst was being transported to the trial from the mental hospital in which he was residing.  That was the tip of the iceberg.  In addition, much of the exonerating forensic evidence, including DNA, has been available for years, with the prosecutor fighting overturning the conviction and death sentence tooth and nail.

    Ironically, Blair's case is the one that inspired Texas's version of Megan's Law, called Ashely's Law, for the victim Ashley Estell.  It was passed in her "memory" because everyone believed that a convicted sex offender had killed her.  Turns out, of course, that it was someone with no sex offenses.  

    Blair's other convictions actually came about because he wrote to law enforcement trying to assert his innocence, by confessing to the boys he molested.  He thought if he could show that he only molested boys, and not girls, they would doubt his guilt in Ashley's case.  

    Any links (none / 0) (#5)
    by Rojas on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 11:46:30 PM EST
    to some trial background on the case that a layman can get access to ?

    As you said, this was another case that helped forge some of the really bad ideas about crime and civil rights here in Texas.