Criminal Justice

Houston Man Falsely Convicted of Rape, Imprisoned for 12 Years

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Due to problems with the Houston crime lab:

Houston officials have been struggling to fix the crime lab for years. An independent audit in 2002 raised concerns about DNA analysis procedures. In June, a former U.S. Justice Department inspector hired by the city cited hundreds of "serious and pervasive" flaws in forensic cases handled by the lab.

Taylor was convicted of rape in 1995 and sentenced to 60 years in prison. The victim picked him out of a lineup but acknowledged she only caught a glimpse of her attacker's face.

During his trial, a crime lab analyst testified that no body fluids were found on the victim's bedsheet. This summer, the Innocence Project paid to have a New Orleans lab retest the bedsheet. Semen that lab found matched the DNA of a man already in prison.

Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal apologized to Taylor in court Tuesday, and several council members echoed his regret.

Let's hope Mississippi soon undertakes a similar audit of the way it administers its autopsies.

NEXT: Remaking the Welfare State

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  1. C’mon, Radley, that guy in Mississippi did 1500 autopsies per year? That just means he’s really good at it. You sound jealous.

  2. I sure hope the $10 bond he got makes up for those years in prison.
    $10.
    Wow.

  3. How exactly do you “convcite” someone?

  4. Let’s hope Mississippi soon undertakes a similar audit of the way it administers its autopsies.

    Radley:

    We’re waiting for news of the radio gig in Jackson this morning.

  5. How exactly do you “convcite” someone?

    Pedant. Radley will fix it quietly, and who’s going to look stupid then, when nobody understands what your post refers to?

  6. Cases like this are why I reluctantly moved from being a loud, obnoxious, death penaly advocate to a fervent opponent of capital punishment. Too many mistakes in too many jurisdictions. To borrow a phrase, another isolated incident.

  7. How exactly do you “convcite” someone?

    Ho, ho. Clever chap, you pointed out a minor typographical error in the headline of this news item! Well played.

  8. Radley will fix it quietly, and who’s going to look stupid then, when nobody understands what your post refers to?

    Which one is stupider? The stupid person or the person who follows him? And does this obtuse “Star Wars” reference make any goddamn sense? The answer is no! So in case Radley fixes it, HEY PEOPLE, RADLEY ORIGINALLY HAD “CONVICTED” spelled “CONVCITED”!!!!

  9. Oh, and the content of the article.
    Yeah, that’s a shame.

  10. Someone didn’t get head-butted enough as a child.

  11. Which one is stupider?

    Ah, that would probably be me in this case. Yoda. Yogurt. Whichever one you are.

  12. Cases like this are why I reluctantly moved from being a loud, obnoxious, death penaly advocate to a fervent opponent of capital punishment. Too many mistakes in too many jurisdictions. To borrow a phrase, another isolated incident.

    Same here. As a former lawyer, I have a hard time understanding how anyone can have any contact with our justice/court system and still support the death penalty.

  13. So a black man gets falsely convicted of rape, he gets nothing. But 3 white lacrosse students get falsely accused of rape, they get to sue the shit out of the government. Damned lawyers.

  14. And all this time I believed that if you weren’t guilty then you don’t have anything to worry about.

  15. Cases like this are why I reluctantly moved from being a loud, obnoxious, death penaly advocate to a fervent opponent of capital punishment. Too many mistakes in too many jurisdictions. To borrow a phrase, another isolated incident.

    Same here. As a former lawyer, I have a hard time understanding how anyone can have any contact with our justice/court system and still support the death penalty.

    Same here.

  16. Once again, if you feel the need to donate time or money to a worthy cause, The Innocence Project is a damn good bet. Non-partisan, non-religious just devoted to making sure that justice is served properly.

  17. Pedant. Radley will fix it quietly, and who’s going to look stupid then, when nobody understands what your post refers to?

    oooh! oooh! ooh! I can! I can! I can!!!! I ca’…

    *looks around. um…..
    /slinks off

  18. I’ll also throw out another worthy organization if you have some spare change: Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions.

  19. Amanda Marcotte,

    To be fair, it depends on the state you get screwed in and the level of screwing the prosecutor gives you. In our favorite NC fiasco, the prosecutor violated about half of the canon of ethics. Easier to pursue civil relief when that happens, though the immunity barrier can be a tough nut to crack even then.

    In my mind, anyone who is falsely convicted has a right to a fairly substantial recovery. I’d rather hand money to someone like that than to the people we usually give money to.


  20. We’re waiting for news of the radio gig in Jackson this morning.

    It went well. Hayne didn’t show up, though I hear some of his defenders called in after I hung up. The producer tells me the station plans to stay on the story.

  21. Which one is stupider?

    What is stupider? I believe you mean “more stupid”

    IN YUR FACE

  22. Agree with several of the above posters re: death penalty. It’s a philosophical exercise now – “Would you be in favor of the death penalty if they’d execute only people actually guilty of the crime?”

  23. Good to hear that the pressure will remain on Dr. Hayne.

  24. Thank you Radley for keeping the steady beat against the abuse of power. And thank you Kwix for posting the Innocence Project!

  25. Many states do indeed pay restitution to the falsely convicted. I believe in Ohio there is a formula based on the number of years in prison, along with other factors.

  26. Read about a similar case here.

  27. Amanda Marcotte

    Your point is well taken.

    I note that the news item is only a day old.

    Hopefully, Harris County will do the decent thing and compensate him properly. (I say hopefully, because I know that they could turn out to be real jerks – like the English Solicitor General who sent the wrongfully convicted prisoner a bill for food and lodging for the years of his imprisonment. It was cited here previously, but I don’t have the link.)

  28. Whoa, ignore that last link. Try here.

  29. “So a black man gets falsely convicted of rape, he gets nothing. But 3 white lacrosse students get falsely accused of rape, they get to sue the shit out of the government.”

    It has nothing to do with the guy in Houston being black. Two things, first Texas has very broad sovereign immunity laws. Second, the prosecutor in this case did not do anything unethical. It was not unethical for him to believe his expert. It appears that the expert was incompetant. Certainly, someone is at fault for that but being at fault doesn’t mean misconduct. Unless you can establish that the expert lied or there was some kind of diliberate indifference to known lab incompetance, you don’t have a case against the prosecutor or the state of Texas.

  30. It’s a good thing people weren’t wrongly executed before DNA testing. Thankfully, the system works!

  31. Thread Jack Alert:

    Click here to read a touching story about a family whose one year old nearly drowned to death and is bow being sued, by one of the cops who came to assist, for having a wet slippery floor.

  32. Seriously, is rape a crime in Texas?

    Okay, okay, I’m kidding.

  33. It was not unethical for him to believe his expert. It appears that the expert was incompetant.

    Unless they “expert” has a history of problems that make said “expert” less than reliable, and the prosecutor ignores that history of problems.

    Look, I get the point, but let’s be honest. Prosecutors aren’t choosing these “experts” because they are honest truthful people — they choose their “experts” based on how likely they are to validate the story the prosecution is selling. Like that Dr. Hayne fellow.

  34. Ten bucks, to be donated to the guy in order to double his bond, says Harris County won’t do a thing for him.

    I had to go to six different government offices on Monday just to register to vote by absentee ballot.

    (Prop 10 all the way.)

  35. This proves once again why everybody needs to be skeptical about the claims of all government law enforcement agents. Could you imagine if this guy had been castrated (as some people want the penalty for rape to be), even though he is innocent? The government simply should not ever be taken at its word on anything because it is wrong so often.

  36. $10 and an apology for a paltry 12 years of my life? What a bargain!

    Sign me up, baby!

  37. For what it’s worth, Texas does have a statute permitting a person wrongfully imprisoned to sue the state and recover: 1. the cost of attorneys’ fees and other expenses both for the original prosecution and for the wrongful imprisonment suit; and 2. the amount of income the person wrongfully imprisoned could have earned if free. However, there is a damage cap of $500,000.

    Doesn’t really make up for 14 years, but this man figures to get a few hundred thousand dollars, perhaps the whole half-million.

  38. Hopefully, Harris County will do the decent thing and compensate him properly.

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    Oh, wait, that wasn’t a joke? You’re serious?

    No, the city won’t do shit for him unless he can somehow prevail in a lawsuit. Any other reasons aside, if Houston sets a precedent of compensating people for wrongful convictions due to the fabulously incompetent crime lab they’ll quickly go broke. The crime lab has been the gift that keeps on giving.

    (Side note: Chuck R. is the elected county DA, but the city in the form of Houston PD runs the crime lab.)

  39. It appears that the expert was [incompetent].

    It would be interesting to know how often this “incompetence” led to conclusions that ended up benefiting the prosecution. I’d be willing to bet that it was a very high percentage of the time. If so, that would be compelling evidence that more than mere incompetence was involved.

  40. In my mind, anyone who is falsely convicted has a right to a fairly substantial recovery. I’d rather hand money to someone like that than to the people we usually give money to.

    Say, double or triple the median full time wage for the duration of his UNJUST incarceration? I have real problems with sovereign immunity.

  41. If Ronald Taylor didn’t want to spend 12 years in prison, he shouldn’t have lived in a city that would falsely convict him of rape.

  42. According to some comments on the chron.com site to some earlier stories about this guy (in the last few weeks), he’s going to get/already got a $600,000 settlement.

    If true… it’s still not nearly enough.

  43. Radley–

    Hayne didn’t show up because he was busy. he probably did 15 or 20 autopsies during that time. And testified in eight trials. And did rounds at the local hospital. And baked a batch of cookies for the children. He’s now off to accept the Nobel Peace Prize during his lunchtime.

  44. Jamie Kelly

    I don’t understand you post. Convcite.

  45. If Ronald Taylor didn’t want to spend 12 years in prison, he shouldn’t have lived in a city that would falsely convict him of rape.

    The risk of spending the rest of your life in prison for a crime you didn’t commit is, like taxes, the price we pay for living in a civilized society.

  46. From another article:

    After Mr. Taylor is released, prosecutors will file paperwork asking for a pardon, and Mr. Taylor’s attorneys will ask the court to overturn his conviction.

    If he is pardoned based on innocence, Mr. Taylor would be eligible for compensation of $50,000 per year of incarceration, likely more than $600,000.

    Probably not enough, but at least it sounds like he’ll get more than 10 bucks.

  47. Non-partisan, non-religious just devoted to making sure that justice is served properly.

    But doesn’t that perfectly characterize the existing penal system? Why duplicate the work?

    /irony

  48. Same here. As a former lawyer, I have a hard time understanding how anyone can have any contact with our justice/court system and still support the death penalty.

    If these problems were pervaisve enough, I suppose I’d have trouble supporting prison sentences.

    But seriously, not every case has zero eye witnesses and hinges on trace DNA evidence.

  49. Paul-Of course not. But navigate over to the innocence project and take a look around. 208 exonerated as of today. The last time I checked, 11 people have been pulled off death row by that organization. Eliminating jail is, of course, absurd. But these sorts of cases do indicate that we ought to be very careful about imposing prison sentences, and should, perhaps,not impose sentences that can’t be revoked.

  50. Jeezus, ChiTom. Ruin my night, whydontcha?

    The story was bad enough, but that picture broke my heart.

    /goes to kiss her safe a sleeping infant son

  51. Is there a decent society in this world?

  52. This proves once again why everybody needs to be skeptical about the claims of all government law enforcement agents. ….The government simply should not ever be taken at its word on anything because it is wrong so often.

    Our public servants are hyper-aggressive about capturing and imprisoning us. Justifies bigger budgets next year and in the meantime you get to sport the latest military weaponry!

    Seriously, it will soon reach the point where law-enforcement is more dangerous to citizens than non-LEO criminals.

    I honestly worry more about the state than non-sponsored criminals. The state-sponsored ones will outgun, out finance, and out publicize you every time.

  53. Stupid tag oversight….

    This proves once again why everybody needs to be skeptical about the claims of all government law enforcement agents. ….The government simply should not ever be taken at its word on anything because it is wrong so often.

    Our public servants are hyper-aggressive about capturing and imprisoning us. Justifies bigger budgets next year and in the meantime you get to sport the latest military weaponry!

    Seriously, it will soon reach the point where law-enforcement is more dangerous to citizens than non-LEO criminals.

    I honestly worry more about the state than non-sponsored criminals. The state-sponsored ones will outgun, out finance, and out publicize you every time.

  54. Like many earlier posters, stories like this one have caused me to reconsider my support for capital punishment. Over the last several years there’s been story after story of people wrongly convicted due to shoddy lab work, shoddy police work, unethical or bullying prosecutors, etc. Of course, that doesn’t include the people that suffer under the social engineering project known as the WOD.

    I used to have a great deal of faith in our justice system. Nowadays, not so much.

  55. “….moving to Atlanta to marry Jeannette Brown, the fiancee who has waited for him since the mid-1990s.”

    So this lady waited 12 years to get married even though her betrothed was in prison (falsely) convicted of rape? Where can I find a woman like that?

  56. At least the poor guy got an apology- I’ve seen many cases where a prosecutor will see exonerating evidence and decide he’s still the guy, but he had an accomplice.

  57. This guy deserves to be paid millions of dollars by Texas government. But idealy, when government commits an injustice that requires restitution, that restitution should, at least in part, be paid out of the pensions or salaries of the personnel of the government agency responsible for the injustice.

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