April 10, 2007
Ex-inmates urge reforms to aid wrongly convicted
By JIM VERTUNO Associated Press
AUSTIN - Each had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to prison, spending a
total of nearly 50 years behind bars for rapes and a murder the courts now
say they did not commit.
On Tuesday, James Giles, Brandon Moon, James Waller and Christopher Ochoa
urged lawmakers to pass a group of bills designed to help avoid similar
cases, investigate them when they happen, and boost the compensation the
state pays when the wrongly convicted are finally set free.
"Our stories are the tip of the iceberg," said Moon, who spent 17 years in
prison on a rape conviction before he was exonerated by DNA evidence. "There
are a lot of people in prison for crimes they didn't commit."
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, is pushing a package of bills to help the
wrongly convicted. They include:
_ Creating a state Innocence Commission to examine cases where the innocent
have been convicted to find out why.
_ Boost compensation for wrongful imprisonment from $25,000 to $50,000 per
year incarcerated and remove the $500,000 cap. Death row inmates later freed
would receive $100,000 per year.
_ Create a panel to study how to better use eyewitness testimony as
evidence, which can often be unreliable.
_ Require electronic recording of police interrogations.
Texas leads the nation with 27 DNA exonerations, one more than Illinois,
according to Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center that
specializes in overturning wrongful convictions. There have been 198
"We are powered by the moral witnesses of these men," said Barry Scheck, the
co-director of the Innocence Project.
Giles is the latest. On Monday, a Dallas County prosecutor and a judge
recommended he be exonerated after serving 10 years in prison and 14 years
on parole - during which he had to register as a sex offender - for a rape
he did not commit.
Giles supports the boost in compensation for the wrongly convicted. He held
up the blue sex offender registry card he carries in his wallet to show that
even though he's been out of prison, he sometimes struggled to find a job
and has shouldered the burden of his conviction long enough.
"It's something a person can never get back," Giles said. "Humiliation.
Waller said he was convicted of rape based on an eyewitness account that put
the perpetrator at about 5-feet, 8-inches tall. Waller stands 6-4. He spent
10 years in prison and another 14 trying to clear his name.
"Me being misidentified cost me 25 years of my life," Waller said.
Ochoa was wrongly convicted of murder in 1988 after he gave police a
confession he says was coerced during his interrogation. Exonerated 12 years
later by DNA evidence, he is now a lawyer.
Texas, with its reputation as a law-and-order state, should take the lead in
finding ways to avoid more wrongful convictions.
"It would be wonderful if my state would take the lead," Ochoa said.
Source : Associated Press