Criminal Justice

Another Exoneration in Dallas

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At a hearing tomorrow, Dallas County, Texas officials are expected to announce that DNA evidence has cleared Johnnie Earl Lindsey of a rape for which he has served 26 years in prison.  Lindsey would become the 20th person exonerated in Dallas County, where District Attorney Craig Watkins (see my interview with him here) is actively working with innocence activists to seek out and overturn wrongful convictions.

Watkins also recently announced that his office will now take a look at all pending death row cases originating in Dallas County.  Dallas-area journalist Trey Garrison notes that Watkins' announcement triggered this curious reaction from a former prosecutor:

Toby Shook, who sent several people to death row while he was a Dallas County prosecutor, said Mr. Watkins was imposing an unnecessary new level of review and a hardship on victims' families.

"Perhaps he hasn't thought this through, but essentially what he's saying is, 'There is one more court of appeal and that's me,' " said Mr. Shook, who was defeated by Mr. Watkins two years ago. "That's going to be devastating to a [victim's] family." 

Perhaps.  But I would hope the families of murder victims would prefer that the correct person be executed for the crime, not just any person.

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  1. Toby Shook…said Mr. Watkins was imposing an unnecessary new level of review and a hardship on victims’ families

    Ass-covering scumbag. I am convinced (partially through experience) that the people who set out to be prosecutors are sadistic scum who love holding people’s lives in their hands. If they were stupider, they’d have been cops.

  2. Wow. A good guy. An actual good guy.

    Look at that.

  3. “But I would hope the families of murder victims would prefer that the correct person be executed for the crime, not just any person.” – Balko

    You’ve obviously never been to Dallas. It’s especially bad if you have fake cocaine or are Latino.

  4. What’s the point of having elected prosecutors? There are already agencies charged with the task of investigating crime and bringing charges against suspects. These agencies are called police departments.

    Do prosecutors exist to screen out bogus police charges? Nonsense – prosecutors are just as inclined as cops to bring bogus charges. Weeding out the bogus charges is the task of grand juries and trial juries – prosecutors don’t help. At best, they simply have different priorities as to the people they target.

    If the cops want to charge them, then the (unelected) police department lawyer – or a lawyer hired for the case – should simply pursue the case in the courts, subject to the same ethical requirements as any lawyer. That is, the primary duty is to the client, but there’s also the duty to obey the law, not mislead the court, comply with discovery requirements, and not make claims known to be false. Would an average police-department lawyer be less ethical than a DA? At least the police dept lawyer won’t be seeking an independent political power base.

    We should also reinstate the common-law practice of letting average citizens prosecute criminal cases, with proper safeguards.

    This way, we will at least be spared the spectacle of preening DAs pretending that they are “ministers of justice” with special responsibilities beyond simply representing a client.

  5. Even when someone is not falsely convicted, I fail to understand why the victims of a crime should have anything to say about how it is prosecuted or how the perpetrator is treated. Prosecution by the state is not revenge for the victims, it is an opportunity to remove someone who won’t play by the rules and respect other people’s rights. The feelings of victims is not relevant to the pursuit of justice.

  6. Zeb,

    Someone who says they’re a victim of a crime ought to be able to file charges against the alleged criminal (like under the common law), but the process should give advantages to the defendant, due to the consequences of getting a death sentence or prison sentence.

    If the victims won’t prosecute a dangerous person, the cops should be able to do so.

    The question is whether the courts will insist on protecting in practice the rights which defendants possess on paper. If the courts are zealous in this regard, and if they punish prosecutors of any kind who transgress ethical limits, then we can still have a fair process for all.

  7. Is Shook actually saying it would be better to let innocent people rot in jail for decades to come so that victims’ families can have closure?

    He’s not saying that, is he? “Perhaps he hasn’t thought this through” indeed!

  8. Is Shook actually saying it would be better to let innocent people rot in jail for decades to come so that victims’ families can have closure?

    Don’t forget the people on death row!!

  9. Is Shook actually saying it would be better to let innocent people rot in jail for decades to come so that victims’ families can have closure?

    No, he’s saying “don’t investigate my old cases because it makes me look bad”. I don’t think he actually gives one shit about the victim’s families, because if he did, he would have tried to get the real criminal so there would be no further victim’s families.

  10. Good grief, government officials exhibit political motivations. CYA is perhaps the most common political motivation followed by CYPA (cover your party’s ass).
    Let’s make a list.

    CYA
    CYPA
    CYBA (cover your boss’s ass)

    Any others?

  11. Texas justice isn’t. We have prosecutors who enforce the law the way they feel it should be written, a jury pool entirely too willing to believe any ridiculous bullshit as long as a cop says it, and a pervasive mentality that no punishment is too severe. Plus, nobody gives a damn about anybody who can’t afford their own lawyer, be they white, black, or brown. I don’t recommend getting charged with a felony down here, even if you are completely blameless.

  12. Wow. A good guy. An actual good guy.

    And an elected official no less. This guys is like some kind of political Jesus!

  13. I thought he was sure to be a failure when elected. My mistake.

    Any info on whether he’s likely to get re-elected? When’s he up? Any polling?

  14. Wow. A good guy. An actual good guy.

    Look at that.

    He’s gonna be so toast in the Iowa caucus.

  15. This guys is like some kind of political Jesus!

    It will be taken care of.

  16. At a hearing tomorrow, Dallas County, Texas officials are expected to announce that DNA evidence has cleared Johnnie Earl Lindsey of a rape for which he has served 26 years in prison.

    Expected eh? I don’t know. It is Texas after all. But here’s hoping anyway. And 26 years! Damn it’s heartening but oh so depressing at the same time.

    What is the traditional drink for getting released from prison?

  17. At a hearing tomorrow, Dallas County, Texas officials are expected to announce that DNA evidence has cleared Johnnie Earl Lindsey of a rape for which he has served 26 years in prison.

    Maybe I’m the only person bothered by this, but they have the evidence today (hell, maybe they had it earlier), they know what the result of the hearing is going to be. Why the hell is he still in jail? Granted, it’s easy to say “hey, it’s been 26 years, what’s one more day”, but it just seems strange to me that the guy is in jail, he shouldn’t be, everyone knows he shouldn’t be, but we have to follow all the procedural hurdles for no other reason then being anal about procedure. Let the poor guy out already.

    Rationally, I know it’s not that big of a deal. Still, something about that bothers me.

  18. It’s nice to see someone in a political office doing something of such seemingly pure goodness.

  19. Thanks for the nod, Radley.

  20. In other news, the D.A.’s office announced that Lee Harvey Oswald really *was* just a patsy.

  21. My guess: families don’t want justice so much as they want closure. As much as Shook is pulling a CYA, look at it from the victim’s relatives’ position – the guy getting let go means you have to acknowledge that the real killer/rapist/what have you is still out there.

  22. DALLAS — A North Texas court dismissed the case against the man known as “Ashley’s Killer” two months after his convictions were tossed out because DNA evidence cleared him of the 1993 child slaying.

    Michael Blair was convicted and sentenced to death for the molesting and strangling of 7-year-old Ashley Estell in suburban Dallas. Her body was found in a remote area of Collin County on Sept. 5, 1993, a day after she disappeared from a Plano park where her brother was playing soccer.

    But recent DNA testing excluded him and in June his conviction was set aside by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The DNA evidence shows that another man, now deceased, is a plausible suspect in the girl’s death, according to the Collin County District Attorney’s office.
    […]

    Court dismisses Ashley’s Killer, cites DNA test

  23. But I would hope the families of murder victims would prefer that the correct person be executed for the crime, not just any person.

    That would seem to be a given but apparently it isn’t.

  24. As usual, overwhelming evidence that at best the prosecutor was careless or incompetent, and at worse conspiring to thwart justice, but our “legal system” can’t think to investigate, prosecute, or convict an “officer of the court”

  25. I would hope the families of murder victims would prefer that the correct person be executed for the crime, not just any person.

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