Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Dallas County Exonerations

Dallas County Exonerations

Lisa Falkenberg has a column in today's Houston Chronicle, "At least Dallas County gives 2nd chance."

What's wrong with the justice system in Dallas? Is it really that much worse than ours?

Harris County had tainted evidence and sloppy record-keeping from a leaky police crime lab. Both counties have shared reputations for what critics call a "conviction-at all-costs" mentality. And Harris, the so-called death penalty capital of the world, is a lot more populous.

So, assuming Harris has its fair share of bad lawyers, overzealous cops and mistaken eyewitnesses, why aren't we seeing the same parade of exonerations?

The main answer is simple: Dallas is a pack rat, keeping evidence dating back to the 1980s in catalogued freezers of a county-run lab; Harris County is not.

It's not that Dallas' policy was born of benevolent foresight: It likely was intended to aid prosecutors in fighting appeals.

But enter Craig Watkins, the new Democratic district attorney hell-bent on airing his Republican predecessors' sins and busting out the innocent, and you've got a recipe for long-awaited justice.

The reference below is to Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal. And:

I admire Rosenthal's compassion for victims; he says he decided long ago that if alleged rape victims braved stigma to come forward, he would stand by them until evidence proved otherwise.

Why not the same compassion for victims of incompetent counsel and mistaken eyewitnesses?

Rosenthal should follow Watkins' example in Dallas: Throw open his doors to the innocence attorneys and allow them to test whatever evidence exists in disputed cases. He has nothing to lose, except his pride, but much to gain. For every innocent person in prison, there is a murderer or rapist who escaped justice.

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