Thursday, January 03, 2008

Wrongly Convicted Man Free After Serving 27 Years

Dallas, my home town, has the unique distinction of being in a county with the most number of wrongfully convicted inmates. In the zeal of our county prosecutors, dozens of men and women have been convicted of crimes they did not commit and were later exonerated through DNA evidence. That is a sad legacy which I suspect is tainted with residual racism from the early part of the 1950’s and 60’s.

The latest wrongfully convicted prisoner is Charles Chatman who spent 27 years in prison for a crime he has always said he didn’t commit. The Innocence Project of Texas and District Judge John Creuzot shepherded the appeal process and Chatman has finally been released. Before the crime is officially cleared from Chatman's record, the appeals court must accept the recommendation or the governor must grant a pardon. Either step is considered a formality after Creuzot's ruling.

He was the 15th inmate from Dallas County since 2001 to be freed by DNA testing and served more time than any of the other inmates. District Attorney Craig Watkins attributes the exonerations to a past culture of overly aggressive prosecutors seeking convictions at any cost. Watkins has started a program in which law students, supervised by the Innocence Project of Texas, are reviewing about 450 cases in which convicts have requested DNA testing to prove their innocence.

We need more public officials like Watkins and Creuzot who are concerned more about doing what is right than what is politically expedient. Thanks guys!

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