February 16, 2007
Innocence Project to review DNA for 354 inmates
DALLAS - The Innocence Project of Texas will receive unprecedented access to
review the cases of 354 inmates requesting DNA testing under a plan unveiled
by new Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins.
The upcoming review is the first of its kind in Texas and "virtually
unprecedented" nationwide, said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence
Project, a New York-based legal center that specializes in overturning
Smaller-scale efforts have been undertaken in Virginia, Florida and North
Carolina, experts said, but this is believed to be the first time a
prosecutor has called for an outside examination of every request for appeal
based on DNA evidence.
Decision a no-brainer
Watkins, who has seen two men exonerated by DNA since taking office Jan. 1,
describes his decision as a no-brainer.
"We had to make this move," Watkins said Friday. "We're going to do things
right in Dallas County and right some wrongs that have been done in the
DNA evidence has exonerated 12 Dallas County men since 2001, which is more
than all but two states, according to the Innocence Project.
A 13th man, James Giles, is expected to be exonerated within the next few
weeks, Watkins said.
Thirty-four Dallas County inmates have received DNA testing since being
convicted. Eleven saw their guilt confirmed and six are still going through
the testing process. In five cases, the DNA testing was inconclusive,
according to the district attorney's office.
Lab keeps evidence longer
Dallas County has been the site of an inordinate number of exonerations in
part because the laboratory prosecutors use holds onto biological evidence
for up to 25 years, said Jeff Blackburn, director of the Innocence Project
Other labs across the state often destroy samples after convictions, he
Innocence Project lawyers and staffers will work with law students at Texas
Wesleyan, Texas Tech, North Texas, University of Texas at Arlington and
Southern Methodist to identify the most likely candidates for exonerations.
No tax money will be used to pay for testing, Watkins said.
- Top two: Illinois and Texas lead the nation in DNA exonerations with 26
- Next in line: New York follows with 21.
- Nationally: There have been 194 exonerations.
Source: Innocence Project
Source : Associated Press