39 Innocent People, 500 Years In Jail: Texas Justice
Wrap your head around this one: "Since 1994, Texas has exonerated 39 innocent people who served over 500 years in prison for crimes they did not commit."
That's the first sentence of The Justice Project's new report, "Convicting the Innocent: Texas Justice Derailed." And after skimming through this thing, Hair Balls is tempted to tweak the subtitle: "Texas Justice: Assholes and Idiots."
Faulty eyewitness testimony is the leading cause of these wrongful convictions. Other factors "include false forensic testimony, reliance on unreliable or limited forensic methodologies...testimony from informants or accomplices with incentives to lie, false confessions and guilty pleas, suppression of exculcaptory evidence, ineffective assistance of counsel and investigative and prosecutorial tunnel vision."
Some of the above rang true in the recent exoneration in Houston of Ricardo Rachell, who served six years in prison on a child-sexual-assault conviction before authorities got around to checking the DNA sample he voluntarily gave before his arrest. In that case, Rachell's decidedly un-Matlockian attorney never filed a request for the DNA - but the Justice Project reports out that "unlike many other states, Texas has no statute that mandates automatic discovery of key case documents, such as police reports and witness statements." So if you can't afford, say, Rusty Hardin, and instead get stuck with one of those patently Texan lawyers who are apt to fall asleep during trial, exculpatory evidence might not ever see the light of day.
Rachell's isn't the only Houston case mentioned in the report. Hair Balls was especially dumbfounded by the case of Anthony Robinson, who was sentenced to 27 years for raping a University of Houston student. He was convicted solely on the victim's misidentification. Robinson just happened to be on campus on the day of the rape, "picking up a car for a friend."
Now get this: in 2000, after DNA testing proved Robinson's innocence, the Harris County D.A.'s office "still did not believe Robinson to be an innocent man. The DA's office argued that the semen came from an unknown man with whom the victim had consensual sex and that Robinson still had something to do with the crime. There was no evidence to back up this theory." (Man -- if only the real rapist hung around campus long enough to pick up a friend's car!)
Hair Balls hopes our new D.A. and HPD Chief Harold Hurtt read this report. We have a feeling that it might just be a real eye-opener.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.