This Week in Innocence


Stories pulled  from the Innocence blog the last few weeks:

  • Another exoneration in Dallas (see my interview with Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins here).
  • DNA testing finally exonerates a Texas man for a rape he always said he didn't commit. Unfortunately, Tim Cole died in a Texas prison nine years ago. Another man confessed to the rape in 1995, but authorities ignored him. It's likely that Cole's wrongful conviction came with a death sentence. A lifelong asthmatic, he'd been able to treat the condition by the time he got to college. Not so in prison. He died of an asthmatic attack in 1999.
  • Meanwhile in Tennessee, a stubborn prosecutor may finally back down after years of pursuing the wrong man for a 1985 murder, despite the fact that DNA evidence has cleared the man of the rape the same prosecutor said was the motive for the murder. The U.S. Supreme Court has actually heard this case, tossing the conviction on the grounds that no reasonable juror could have convicted the man given the new evidence. Money quote: "Why, after all this evidence has poured in that House is innocent of the crime, does the state continue to so zealously defend the situation? The reason is because state prosecutors typically never admit error." That's from the federal district court judge in Nashville. Paul House spent 23 years in prison, most of them on death row.
  • DNA testing exposes another wrongful murder conviction, this one in New Mexico. It's also another example in how police can extract false confessions, particularly from the mentally disabled.
  • Reuters looks at how lax evidence preservation laws are hampering efforts to look for other wrongful convictions.
  • Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (unconvincingly) explains why he's opposed to post-conviction DNA testing in capital cases.
  • South Carolina is one of just a few states that don't give post-conviction inmates a path to DNA testing in cases where it could prove their innocence. The state legislature passed a bill to correct the problem, and Gov. Mark Sanford was set to sign it. Unfortunately, the legislature then tacked on an 11th-hour poison pill amendment allowing police to take DNA samples from everyone arrested for a serious crime (not just those convicted) for inclusion in a statewide database. To his credit, Sanford had already vetoed a similar bill, and was forced to veto this one. Unfortunately, that means South Carolina still doesn't allow for DNA testing to determine innocence, either.