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February 24, 2012

Dallas DA calling for review of Texas death penalty based on innocence concerns

As reported in this new AP piece, a "Texas prosecutor leading an aggressive push to free wrongly imprisoned inmates, in a county where more than two dozen wrongful convictions have been overturned, is calling for a review of the capital punishment system in the nation's busiest death penalty state." Here is more:

Craig Watkins' tenure as Dallas County's top prosecutor has earned him a national reputation. Now, as Watkins publicly acknowledges that his great-grandfather was executed in Texas almost 80 years ago, he called on state lawmakers to review death penalty procedures to ensure the punishment is fairly administered.

"I think it's a legitimate question to have, to ask: 'Have we executed someone that didn't commit the crime?'" Watkins said in an interview with The Associated Press.

After becoming district attorney in 2007, Watkins started a conviction integrity unit that has examined convictions and, in some cases, pushed for them to be overturned. Dallas County has exonerated 22 people through DNA evidence since 2001 — by far the most of any Texas county and more than all but two states. An additional five people have been exonerated outside of DNA testing. Most of those exonerations occurred during Watkins' tenure.

Texas has executed 55 inmates since 2009, including 13 last year, a 15-year low. Twelve former death row inmates have been freed since 1973. "I think the reforms we've made in our criminal justice system are better than any other state in this country," Watkins said. "But we still need reforms. And so, I don't know if I'm the voice for that. I just know, here I am, and I have these experiences."

February 24, 2012 at 08:34 AM | Permalink


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Uh oh. I have a feeling someone is about to get his DA-card revoked by the chattering class of law-and-order types.

Posted by: Anon | Feb 24, 2012 1:47:34 PM

Dallas DA Watkins: "I think it's a legitimate question to have, to ask: 'Have we executed someone that didn't commit the crime?'"

Any fair observer (not Anon): "None have been found. Have you found one?"

"Watkins says he opposes the death penalty on moral grounds"

Any fair observer: "You're not looking for evidence, are you?"

Posted by: Adamakis | Feb 24, 2012 1:53:17 PM

1) Glad for the freeing of the innocent. The railroading of the accused should be crushed.

2)Did anyone see that Dallas DA show that was on TV about a year ago? It was all about "innocence".

I noticed at least one guy who duped defence advocates with a sob story wind-up only to be proven wrong by DNA, at which point he was utterly unrepentant.

Another case amongst the "exonerated 22" --which also cost big bucks--was purported as a successful acquittal of a man who had served over 20 years for a rape he did not commit. Paradoxically, he had served virtually no time for an attempted rape conviction previously, beside a long rap sheet.
So the 20 years may be objective justice for the previous crime; plus, this criminous attempted rapist will receive $tens of thousands$ in compensation for wrongful incarceration. Two dozen "wrongful convictions" in one county appears, and may indeed be, horrible. We'll have to examine the cases.

Posted by: Adamakis | Feb 24, 2012 2:09:46 PM

Adamakis ,

My understanding as to why Dallas has had so many exhonerations is not so much that they were any worse on the front end as any other jurisdiction as that they did a better than average job of preserving evidence even after conviction. Most places the evidence simply doesn't exist anymore to prove one way or the other.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Feb 24, 2012 5:50:11 PM

@ Adamakis:

I've had prosecutors say that it doesn't really matter if the Defendant is guilty of the charged and/or indicted offense, since they must be guilty of something else. Are we to assume that is pretty well representative of where you're coming from on this?

Posted by: Guy | Feb 24, 2012 10:57:51 PM

@ Soronel

If that's the case, then that leads to some pretty chilling conclusions as to the rates of erroneous convictions in other jurisdictions that don't engage in the same kind of preservation of evidence, wouldn't you think?

Posted by: Guy | Feb 24, 2012 11:09:02 PM


Of course not. Were these prosecutors hypothetical? Von Eck or de Torquemada, perhaps? Regardless, you might be surprised at:

1) the established guilt of the ''innocents'' whom have been reported/bragged-on as "exonerated";

2) the successful manoeuvres of convicts to ensure that no one is eventually punished, e.g.

'Lucky' kidnaps, tortures, and prepares the weapon to kill 'Puggy'...hands pistol to 'Abe' who shoots Puggy 6 times in the head...Lucky shields Abe's involvement & is convicted of Murder 1 & sentenced to death...Close to execution, Lucky appeals and is exonerated since he lacked gunpowder residue, &ct., and Abe is never prosecuted because his involvement was never revealed.

Therefore, many ''innocents'' are "guilty of something else". Pensez que non?

Posted by: Adamakis | Feb 26, 2012 11:17:04 PM

I am calling for a review of all Texas transportation, including walking in the street, based on crash concerns.

I am calling for a review of all Texas candy making, based on burning of fingers concerns.

I am calling for a review of all Texas medical care, based on medical error concerns.

Something happens to the intellect of people in law school.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 27, 2012 12:43:16 AM

@ Adamakis:

While I wish that at least some of the prosecutors for both the county and the commonwealth were hypothetical as opposed to actual, they are unfortunately not. How about your exoneree who is actual guilty? Hypothetical as opposed to actual?

Posted by: Guy | Feb 27, 2012 9:36:26 AM

It's a legitimate concern; it's unthinkable that an innocent person could be possibly facing the death penalty let alone serious jailtime.

Posted by: Ford Dallas | Dec 26, 2012 11:56:14 AM

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