Another Exoneration in Dallas County

Patrick Waller was convicted of a 1992 kidnapping and robbery. Why?

Three of the four people abducted picked Waller in a photo lineup. The fourth later picked him out of a live lineup, [Mike] Ware said. Waller maintained his innocence and presented an alibi at trial but was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

This is another case of mistaken identification leading to a wrongful conviction. After more than 15 years in prison, new evidence proves Waller's innocence.

DNA testing conducted last year excluded Waller as the contributor of DNA found at the crime scene .... The DNA testing proved a match to another man who Ware said has confessed to the crime and implicated an accomplice, who also confessed.

[more ...]

Neither of the actual offenders can be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has expired. That fact prompted this tacky statement:

"It is a gross understatement to say that we are displeased with the fact that we cannot seek justice for the victims in this case because of the laws back in 1992," Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said in a statement.

Of course, if that office hadn't prosecuted the wrong person, it may have had a chance to "seek justice" while there was still time to do so. At least the office is now on Waller's side. Not so a few years ago, when the District Attorney's office was unwilling to admit its mistake:

[Waller] had requested a post-conviction DNA testing in 2001 but was denied by a judge, Ware said. "It was an appropriate case for testing in 2001," Ware said. "Had he been tested back then, then the actual perpetrator could have been identified and could have been prevented from paroling out."

The former Dallas County DA, Bill Hill, opposed the new testing and convinced several judges that it wasn't necessary in light of the overwhelming evidence against Waller. One of his underlings even testified that she would prosecute Waller again, even if the DNA evidence pointed to someone else, because the evidence was so strong. She's apparently keeping her righteousness to herself now that the real offenders have confessed.

Hill couldn't have cared less about the truth. He just didn't want his office's convictions disturbed.

Mr. Waller is at least the fourth man cleared by DNA after Mr. Hill denied them testing.

Dallas County has a stunning record for convicting the innocent.

Mr. Waller is the 18th man exonerated by DNA in Dallas County. The county has more DNA exonerations than any other in the country since 2001 when the state legislature allowed post-conviction DNA testing.

Waller's case is scheduled for a hearing in early July, when he will presumably be released.

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    It's great that they are reversing their (5.00 / 2) (#1)
    by PssttCmere08 on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 11:06:45 AM EST
    mistakes, but is is disheartening to learn how many wrongful convictions there have been, along with the fact that the time it takes to right things is so long and great chunks of people's lives have been taken from them.  Sounds like a huge revamping in the justice system is required.
    Alas, I don't think it will happen anytime soon.

    What about (none / 0) (#11)
    by cannondaddy on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 02:07:33 PM EST
    the number of high number of executions in Texas.  Think there's a chance there was an innocent man that Bush failed to pardon.

    Not to make too fine a point about it (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by McKinless on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 12:16:36 PM EST

    But current DA Craig Watkins is a Democrat elected to almost everyone's surprise (at least mine!) a couple of years ago. (The first time Dallas County's gone Dem in many, many years.)

    And of course former DA Bill Hill was a Republican.

    Thank God and heaven for Craig Watkins.

    Another jury (none / 0) (#2)
    by eric on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 11:07:41 AM EST
    gets it wrong.  I wonder how they feel about this.

    As a general comment about this topic, I don't think that juries take their jobs seriously enough.  I say this from reading and from my personal experience.  The one thing that they really don't seem to appreciate is that if they vote guilty and get it wrong, they will be convicting and innocent person.

    On the other hand they do seem to appreciate the fact that if they don't convict, they may be letting a guilty person go free.  Oh the horror!

    I am not sure if the problem is that people just don't believe in the "it's better to let 100 guilty men go free than for 1 innocent man to be convicted" mantra, or if they just don't even think about it.  Or maybe this crazy 24 hour news culture of hours makes everyone feel they need to do their part to fight crime and convict every chance they get.

    Well, (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by bocajeff on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 11:14:02 AM EST
    First of all it is a horror to let a guilty person go free, especially for a violent crime.

    Secondly, and I do understand you were making a general statement, I think people do take the job seriously. If you have three "eyewitnesses" that identify someone it really is hard to discount the testimony unless the defense can really disprove it. I mean, who are you going to believe? Me or your own eyes.

    Having said all this, I think it's great that the man went free. And I think there should be some way to fast track DNA identifications.


    This is what I am getting at (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by eric on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 11:22:42 AM EST
    people do very much think that, "it is a horror to let a guilty person go free, especially for a violent crime" like you say.

    Isn't it worse, much worse, to convict one innocent man?

    Personally, I am MUCH more worried about the wrongfully convicted than the guy who got away with it.  This does not seem to be the way juries are thinking.  Maybe it has always been like this.


    It's not either/or (none / 0) (#9)
    by txpublicdefender on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 01:46:58 PM EST
    Of course, when the wrong person is convicted, in most cases that means that the guilty person is also going free (I'm leaving room for the cases where there truly was no crime and for those where a guilty co-defendant is also convicted), so juries aren't really erring on the side of making sure the guilty person gets put away when they convict on evidence that they shouldn't.

    Jailing an innocent.... (none / 0) (#14)
    by kdog on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 02:41:01 PM EST
    is 1000 times worse.  It's a crime in and of itself, and the guilty party went free...a double whammy.

    Adding to this (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by eric on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 11:15:28 AM EST
    I understand that the real problem here is probably some bad actions by the prosecutors, but isn't it also a problem that groups of 12 people are consistently doing the wrong thing?

    A jury can only consider (none / 0) (#8)
    by Fabian on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 01:37:39 PM EST
    what is presented to them.  The prosecution is going to try to get a conviction, period.  The jury has no way of knowing if the person presented to them is innocent as a newborn babe or as guilty as can be.

    The one thing I wonder is how many innocents get convicted who have never had a significant run in with the law before.  It's easier to believe that a jury would convict someone who seems to have a habit of criminal behavior than someone whose previous offenses were no worse than speeding tickets.  It doesn't excuse prosecuting the wrong person, but it makes it more plausible if the defendant was someone who had a consistent pattern of criminal conduct.


    inadmissible (none / 0) (#10)
    by txpublicdefender on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 01:52:36 PM EST
    In most criminal cases, the jury doesn't know about the person's prior run-ins with the law, so I don't think that's as big of a factor as you might think.

    And I don't cut the jury any slack just because they only have what is presented to them and have no way of knowing whether the person is innocent or guilty.  It's true that cases where the state has suppressed exculpatory evidence shouldn't be held against jurors.  But, in many wrongful convictions, the jury had enough in front of them to decide to acquit.  The problem is that most jurors don't have a good background to evaluate the credibility of something like eyewitness evidence.  A victim pointing to someone and saying, "That's the man who did this to me," is extremely powerful in court, and juries will almost always believe it, even in the face of alibi evidence from the defense (which can almost always be trashed by the prosecutor as just the defendant's friends and family covering for him).  Until jurors become more educated in how easy it is for an eyewitness to be unshakeable in her certainty and still 100% wrong, innocent people will continue to be convicted by juries in this country.  DNA is available in only a fraction of cases that involve an eyewitness ID.


    Sounds like a job for the defense. (none / 0) (#12)
    by Fabian on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 02:25:50 PM EST
    Not the jurors.

    I rather think that the best educated jurors are least likely to be seated.  Trials have a large element of the theater in them because the object is to present the most convincing story you have to them.  The more active role a jury plays, the less predictable they become and the less control either side has over the outcome.


    smart jurors (none / 0) (#15)
    by eric on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 03:41:59 PM EST
    I rather think that the best educated jurors are least likely to be seated.

    Just for proof of that statement, I was struck from all four jury panels that I sat on...  ;)


    Do prisoners who get exonerated ever (none / 0) (#6)
    by votermom on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 12:09:46 PM EST
    get any kind of restitution for the time they have been wrongfully imprisoned?

    Yes. (none / 0) (#13)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri Jun 27, 2008 at 02:28:38 PM EST