Hard Time

The evidence points away from Roy Criner's guilt in a savage crime. But the state still has what counts most -- a conviction.

Besides, Morrow says in dismay, Criner has staunchly maintained his innocence from the beginning. In fact, he rejected a plea bargain before trial that, had he taken it, would have put him close to eligibility for release today. He wasn't going to plea for anything," says Morrow.

Walker doesn't buy it. "They perceived him to be responsible for the crime, in my opinion," he says. "Therefore, they didn't put him on the witness stand and allow me to blast him with a cross-examination and cause him, probably, to rear up out of his seat and charge across the courtroom at me, because that's the kind of man he is."

Nevertheless, he does concede that the DNA results have thrown the case a bit out of whack. "Clearly, that's compelling evidence," Walker says. Had the science been available at the time, he says, "We would clearly at that point have been required to proceed with a further investigation. I would have wanted something to overcome that evidence."

"That does not mean that Roy Criner is innocent today, or should be released today," he adds quickly.

The former prosecutor has a lot of faith in the judicial process. Sure, people who are guilty of crimes periodically get off by working the strings to their advantage. And yes, the opposite is true, though he believes it to be a rare occurrence. "I guess the evidence indicates that from time to time an innocent person is wrongly convicted," he says.

When that happens, though, plenty of opportunities for relief remain. "There's a substantial ability for a wrong to be righted," Walker says.

"That's the beauty of the system."

T.R. Coleman assisted with this article.

E-mail Bob Burtman at bob_burtman@houstonpress.com.

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