Thursday's Dallas Morning News carried the editorial, "Even non-DNA cases merit scrutiny."
James Lee Woodard walked out of a Dallas County courthouse this week as the second local man to be cleared of a murder thanks to DNA evidence. Miscarriages of justice involving murder should cause Texans to feel especially queasy, given the state's hyperactive death chamber.
And even though Mr. Woodard wouldn't have paid the ultimate price for someone else's crime, he did pay an outrageous 27 years on a life sentence.
The shady dealings in the district attorney's office that caused this injustice conjure the grotesque specter of another murder case from the same era, that of Randall Dale Adams.
As with Mr. Woodard, the Adams case involved the office of legendary hardball District Attorney Henry Wade. Both cases involved unforgivable prosecutorial tactics of playing hide and seek with evidence that would have helped the defendants bring the truth about their innocence into court. And in both cases, the actual killers would later rape or murder others.
ABA e-journal reports, "18th Innocent Freed in 1 Texas County; Officials Vow Change."
For the 18th time in approximately seven years, an innocent man cleared by DNA testing reportedly has been released from prison by one Texas county.
This time it was 55-year-old James Woodard who walked out of a Dallas courtroom yesterday, a free man. He had served 27 years in prison for the murder of his girlfriend—the longest time ever spent in prison by anyone subsequently exonerated by DNA testing, Reuters reported. Like many other wrongfully convicted individuals, he is a black man, the news agency writes, and his case "highlight[s] problems in the local justice system that include what critics have said is a history of racism and racial profiling."
Woodard could have been released earlier, if he admitted his "guilt" in the rape-murder to the state parole board. But he refused to do so, reports the Associated Press.
"It says a lot about your character that you were more interested in the truth than your freedom," state District Judge Mark Stoltz told Woodard as he ordered his release. To formally be declared innocent, Woodard must now obtain an appellate court order or a pardon from the Texas governor, according to AP.
The deluge of wrongful convictions in Dallas County—reportedly there have been 18 inmates since 2001 who were cleared by DNA testing, the most in any one county in the country—has caught the attention of state lawmakers, according to Reuters and the Innocence Project.
Finally, Janet Elliott reports on the wrongful convictions summit Senator Rodney Ellis is hosting next Thursday at the Texas Capitol, noted earlier in this post. Her article is, "Exonerations prompt summit on convictions."
Several of those individuals are expected to attend the May 8 Summit on Wrongful Convictions, along with judges, prosecutors, police and lawmakers.
The public is invited to the summit, which will begin at noon in the Texas Senate Chamber.
"We've reached a tipping point on wrongful convictions in Texas," said Ellis. "Nobody can seriously doubt that there's a problem, and next week leaders from across our criminal justice system will come together to start solving it."
Ellis has tried since 2003 to pass legislation to create a state-funded Innocence Commission to review convictions. He is meeting this week with Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott, asking them to use their authority to set up a panel.
Earlier coverage of James Lee Woodard's exoneration is here.