Catch-22

George Dismukes shouts his innocence. The parole board prefers contrition.

George Jacobs, who represented Dismukes at trial, may have had other things on his mind. At the time, he was under federal indictment for financial irregularities that eventually resulted in a conviction and house arrest. According to Dismukes, Jacobs failed to tell him about the issue until two weeks before trial. Jacobs disputes that assertion. "He knew it months before," Jacobs says, "because it was in the papers and on the news."

Swisher remains outraged by the verdict. "The more I see of the system, the less faith I have in it," he says. " 'Beyond a reasonable doubt' is just a fairy tale."

In his first two parole presentations, Dismukes focused strongly on his innocence. But he was told that it wasn't the board's job to second-guess the judge and jury, so he soft-pedaled the issue the last time. But board member Cynthia Tauss seemed concerned about it anyway, asking attorney Gary Polland to have Dismukes draw a detailed map of the crime scene with annotated explanations. Tauss says she asked for the map only because she "thought it would be helpful to future board members." Regardless, by the time Dismukes produced the information and Polland delivered it, Tauss had already voted him down.

The innocence question has Dismukes in a catch-22: One of the things Tauss looks for in an inmate is contrition, and as long as he refuses to admit his guilt, he can't be contrite. But if he changes his story just to meet Tauss's requirement, he will appear to have been lying from the start. "Texas has had a very difficult time accepting the fact that we have had wrongful convictions," says Swisher. "This is a good example of an innocent man stuck in the system."

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