Dallas Inmate Freed After 25 Years, DNA Proves Innocence

Johnnie Earl Lindsey, age 56, became the 20th Dallas, TX inmate to be cleared by DNA testing and today was freed from prison.

Lindsay served 25 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit. His letters over the years requesting DNA testing were ignored.

Then District Attorney Craig Watkins was elected.

Lindsey, his lawyers and the judge repeatedly praised Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, who since taking office in January 2007 has examined wrongful convictions and not opposed attempts by prisoners seeking DNA testing. Mitchell said the job of a prosecutor is "not to convict but to see justice is done. We're fortunate to have a district attorney with the courage, dignity and honor to fulfill this duty."

Lindsey was at work when the crime was committed. At his trial, he produced his time cards and his employer testified for him. How did he get convicted? Erroneous eye-witness identification and faulty police lineup procedures. [More...]

At today's hearing, Lindsey was welcomed into a fraternity no one should ever have to be a member of:

In attendance at Lindsey's court hearing were fellow exonorees, a half-dozen wrongly convicted men who each served on average about 20 years in prison. One by one, they introduced themselves to Lindsey, the newest member of their fraternity.

As has become his habit at these hearings, one of the exonorees, James Giles, handed Lindsey a $100 bill to help him get started as a free man.

Also in the fraternity:

DA Craig Watkins also announced this week he will review all death penalty convictions in the county and seek to stop executions until the review has been completed.

Radley Balko interviewed Craig Watkins in April.

A former defense attorney, Watkins says the Dallas DA’s office has for too long adopted a damaging “convict at all costs” philosophy, an argument bolstered by a string of wrongful convictions uncovered by the Texas Innocence Project in the months before he was elected. Watkins ran on a reform platform, and pulled out a surprising victory against a more experienced Republican opponent.

After taking office, Watkins dismissed nine top-level prosecutors in the office. Nine others left voluntarily. He established a “Conviction Integrity Unit” to ensure proper prosecutorial procedures, and began working with the Texas Innocence Project to find other cases of possible wrongful conviction.

In related news, Grits for Breakfast reports on a woman who is on her way to Dallas to work with the family of the man wrongfully convicted of raping her. He was exonerated by DNA after he died in prison, and they are going to try and clear his name post-humously.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Nominate Watkins for Attorney General (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by themomcat on Sat Sep 20, 2008 at 12:03:38 AM EST
    Bless this man for what he is doing. There is nothing that will every compensate these wrongly accused for the time they have lost. My other thoughts are: What ever happened to reasonable doubt? What was in the minds of those jurors who voted to convict after being presented with conflicting evidence? And what were these prosecutors thinking when they must have suspected that this man was innocent?

    This is pretty much (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by Montague on Sat Sep 20, 2008 at 12:18:16 AM EST
    my main reason for deciding that the death penalty is never acceptable.  At least if there's life in prison, then if someone is exonerated, he/she is alive and can maybe still enjoy his/her life, whatever is left of it.

    Having been on a jury once, and knowing several prosecutors as good friends,  I never want to be accused of anything and stand trial.  I'm not at all certain that justice would be done.  There's no question, either, that a lot of guilty people walk free because of evidence that is not allowed to be presented to juries.

    That's our system... flawed.  I'd rather err on the side of caution.  The death penalty is totally unnecessary and sometimes does the horrific evil of killing an innocent person.

    The system rewards prosecution (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by hairspray on Sat Sep 20, 2008 at 12:24:17 AM EST
    with advancement, pay and higher office, perhaps even the state AG.  So right there you have an inherent conflict of interest.  I don't know what the solution is, except to be able to prosecute the prosecutor if he/she is caught tampering with evidence,etc and to hire more defense attorneys as prosecutors.  It pays to see both sides of the issue.

    Prosecute the prosecutors indeed (none / 0) (#7)
    by SursumTX on Sat Sep 20, 2008 at 04:22:48 PM EST
    If prosecutors knowingly break the law, why should they not be prosecuted?  

    The system absolutely rewards convictions, not justice.  And consider that about 85% of cases are "solved" with a plea bargain.

    First, excessive charges are filed -- the suspect is charged with the harshest crime even remotely possible.  Then they are told they can plea to a lesser charge.  Most people -- even the innocent -- do that to avoid the possibility of a trial and prison.  Most can't afford proper legal representation.

    The result is statistics that show "a drop in the most serious crimes" and lots of "solved" cases and convictions.  

    Read the Dallas Morning News' excellent series "Unequal Justice."  Most of the articles are about actual murderers who get parole.  But a few are about innocent people pressured into pleading guilty to crimes they didn't commit.

    JusticeOnTrial shows estimates that of the approximately 2 M people incarcerated in the USA, about 10%, or 200,000, are likely to be completely innocent.


    dante (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by cpinva on Sat Sep 20, 2008 at 05:26:29 AM EST
    had a special circle in hell, reserved for the henry wades of the world.

    it's bad enough these people have spent so long in prison, for crimes they didn't commit, consider the horror of the victims, when they discover that, not only is the real criminal still running loose, but they helped convict an innocent person. i hope all of them are getting professional help in dealing with this.

    please don't misunderstand, i'm definitely NOT blaming the victims here, they have been victimized twice, as far as i'm concerned.

    good on DA Watkins, for seeking justice, not just buffing his reputation with convictions. sadly, my guess is that he will be a one-term DA, the republicans will come at him with both barrels loaded, and paint him as soft on crime.

    The former DA Henry Wade (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Sep 20, 2008 at 12:20:43 AM EST
    had a lot to do with it.

    bq. No other county in America -- and almost no state, for that matter -- has freed more innocent people from prison in recent years than Dallas County, where Wade was DA from 1951 through 1986.

    By the way, in addition to his legacy of 19 wrongful convictions, he prosecuted Jack Ruby and is the Wade in Roe v. Wade.

    Thanks for the link. I always wondered (none / 0) (#6)
    by hairspray on Sat Sep 20, 2008 at 11:56:54 AM EST
    how they could convict Lenell Geter, the black engineer at work at the time a fast food store was held up.  His co-workers vouched for him and as I recall worked for years to get him freed. Eye witness accounts are a travesty.  Anyone who takes Psych 101 knows that.  Isn't there a set of criteria that more progressive police departments sign on to these days?  I cannot remember its name and it has something to do with a commission that called for an end to eye witness as the sole evidence, an end to "forced confessions" and a few more egregious police behaviors.

    Not the police's fault (none / 0) (#8)
    by diogenes on Sat Sep 20, 2008 at 10:15:05 PM EST
    How do people get convicted?  Last I heard, they are convicted by JURIES after they are indicted by grand juries.  If a jury ignored this man's time cards and employer's statement, then that is where the blame lies, as much as with eyewitnesses and lineups.  The jury ignored his alibi--it's not a case when a man was walking in the wrong place at the wrong time got mistaken for someone else with no alibi.
    Yet another reason for all cases to be tried by JUDGES or panels of three judges.
    Please correct me if this was a bench trial case.