Facing South
Facing South

Texas Justice: Where wrongful convictions are the norm

There's growing evidence that Texas executed an innocent man in 2004.

A nationally-known fire expert told a Texas state commission on forensics last week that the arson investigations that put two Texas men on death row were poorly conducted and the forensic evidence couldn't be supported by science, reported the Dallas Morning News.

One of the cases now in question is that of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in February 2004 for setting his house on fire and killing his 2-year-old daughter and 1-year-old twins. According to the study, Texas fire investigators had no basis to rule that the house fire was arson, a finding that led to Willingham's murder conviction and execution. Willingham always maintained his innocence, and according to the New York Times, "refused to accept a guilty plea that would have spared his life, and insisted until his last painful breath that he was innocent."

The Chicago Tribune reported that the re-examination of the Willingham case comes as many forensic disciplines face scrutiny for playing a role in wrongful convictions that have been exposed by DNA and other scientific advances. It's also a crucial case for Texas:

The finding comes in the first state-sanctioned review of an execution in Texas, home to the country's busiest death chamber. If the commission reaches the same conclusion, it could lead to the first-ever declaration by an official state body that an inmate was wrongly executed.

A Broken System

Wrongful convictions are familiar territory for Texas, a state that has been in the hot seat for the past decade due to the alarming frequency of exonerations. Texas is the state with the highest number of prisoners found to be innocent following DNA testing, according to the Innocence Project, a national organization working to exonerate wrongfully convicted people.

Of the 241 inmates that were found and had their convictions overturned as a result of DNA testing since 1989, 38 have been in Texas. Combined these 38 men have spent more than 500 years in prison for crimes that they did not commit.

Just last month, DNA tests proved the innocence of Ernest Sonnier, a Texas man who was convicted for a 1985 rape, and served 23 years of a life prison sentence before he was released.

Sonnier was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison largely based on the victim's testimony, even though the forensic evidence gathered from her body and clothes showed that someone with a blood type different from the defendant's had raped her, according the Innocence Project.

Eyewitness misidentification has played a role in more than 84 percent of all wrongful convictions exposed by DNA in Texas (and at least 40 percent of these eyewitness identifications involved a cross racial identification), according to the Innocence Project. In Texas, witness misidentification has been a large issue for Dallas County, playing a role in the majority of the county's slew of exonerations. Since 2001, 21 people in Dallas County have had convictions overturned after DNA proved their innocence, reported the Associated Press. That's a rate larger than any other county in Texas, and larger in fact than many other states in the U.S.

Unvalidated or improper forensic science and forensic scientist misconduct has also played a large role in wrongful convictions --accounting for approximately 50 percent of wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing, according to the Innocence Project. It was a combination of witness misidentification and faulty testimony from a Houston Police Department Crime Lab analyst that led to Sonnier's conviction. In fact, Sonnier was the sixth man to be freed by new DNA testing and revelations of faulty work, sloppy procedurals and false testimony by the HPD crime lab.

As the Innocent Project said in a recent press statement:

Sonnier's is the latest in a string of cases where DNA testing has proven inmates' innocence after wrongful convictions involving faulty forensics at the HPD Crime Lab. Last year, Innocence Project client Ronnie Taylor was exonerated through DNA testing after serving more than 13 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit. In Taylor's case, a forensic analyst claimed to have conducted testing for the presence of semen on evidence from the crime scene and found none. Years later, DNA testing on the exact same spot proved Taylor's innocence - and proved that the testing had either never been done or had been conducted improperly, according to the Innocence Project.

"For years, Houston has been ground zero in the national epidemic of faulty forensic science," said Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck. "There are still thousands of cases from the Houston Crime Lab that need to be reviewed, and that needs to happen quickly. In many ways, Houston is a symptom of the root problem, which is a lack of national standards and oversight for forensic science."

Human rights advocates have been pushing the Texas legislature to implement a number of safeguards, some that would protect against faulty forensics and prosecutorial misconduct, and reform interrogation and eyewitness identification procedures. Earlier this year, a bill mandating best practices for both photo and in-person lineups to minimize false identifications died in the Texas legislature. But in May the Texas legislature did succeed in passing the Tim Cole Compensation Act. The bill was named for Timothy Cole, who died in jail before DNA testing revealed that he had been convicted for a rape which he in fact did not commit. The Tim Cole Act goes into affect on Sept. 1 and increases lump sum payments to the exonerated from the current $50,000 to $80,000 for each year of imprisonment.

The Death Penalty

A Facing South has reported, executions have become a Southern phenomenon in many ways. In fact, the South has performed 80 percent of all executions since 1977, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. In 2008, 95 percent of all executions were in the South.

More troubling is the fact that almost 50 percent of all executions in 2008 were performed in Texas. Human rights advocates find it troubling that Texas not only leads the nation in executions by a wide margin, but it also leads the nation in wrongful convictions. In 2008 alone, 7 people were executed from Dallas County, a county soaring with wrongful convictions.

Since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence, according to the DPIC. Nationally, 17 of the 241 people exonerated so far through DNA have served time on death row.

The Southern death penalty was a hot topic of news this summer. In Georgia, the high-profile case of Troy Davis got the nation talking about the possibility of a wrongful conviction. As Facing South reported, Davis, who has always maintained his innocence, received a rare ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in August that would allow him a new hearing. That same week in Texas, Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals, went on trial. She was prosecuted for misconduct after callously refusing to keep her office open beyond 5:00 p.m. to allow lawyers for a death row inmate, Michael Richard, to file a last minute appeal for a stay of execution. Now the nation waits to hear if the charges will be dropped against her, or if she will be reprimanded or removed from office.

As the New York Times editorial page noted on these two recent high-profile cases:

Judge Keller's profound lack of appreciation for the seriousness of taking a life -- and the obligations it places on the state -- is similar to the disturbing dissent that Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas delivered this week in the Troy Davis case. They suggested there was no constitutional problem with executing a man who could prove he was innocent.

Willingham and Sonnier are just two of the latest cases that highlight the ongoing problem of wrongful convictions in Texas and across the nation. Tangentially, the cases of Keller and Davis have also shone a light on the deep problems intrinsic in the country's system of capital punishment.

Before his execution, Willingham told the Associated Press: "The most distressing thing is the state of Texas will kill an innocent man and doesn't care they're making a mistake."

And the question on many people's minds this week: How many more Willingham's exist on Texas' death row?

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re: Texas Justice: Where wrongful convictions are the norm

~ $ATAN WA$ HEARD LAUGHING IN THE HALL$ OF OUR U.$ CONGRE$$ ~

THIS OLD WORLD ORDER OF ABUSE AND NEGLECT OF OUR POORER AMERICANS NEEDS ENLIGHTENED POLITICAL MINDS AND HEARTS TO VIEW GOD DIFFERENTLY THEN $$$... NO MATTER WHAT THEIR POLITICAL PARTY AFFILIATION ???

WHEN WILL OUR WEALTHY ELITE AMERICANS ABATE THEIR ASSAULT ON POORER AMERICANS WITH THEIR MONETARY CONTROL OF OUR IVORY TOWER U.S. CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS OF THE NEW WORLD ORDER ???

THERE ARE NOT MANY MORE DISTRACTIONS LEFT WHICH ARE AVAILABLE FOR OUR WEALTHY ELITE AMERICANS TO HIDE BEHIND IN NOT TAKING PROPER CARE OF ALL OUR AMERICANS IN A HUMANE FASHION !!!

RALPH NADER ATTEMPTED TO EDUCATE AMERICAN VOTERS ABOUT U.S. CORPORATE POWER IN AMERICA AND HOW THEY CONTROL OUR CONGRESSIONAL PEOPLE THROUGH THEIR POCKET BOOK (POLITICAL DONATIONS). WITHOUT THE DOUGH $$$ THESE U.S. CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD DO NOT GET RE~ELECTED TO CONGRESS.
TO STAY IN POLITICAL OFFICE IN AMERICA,ONE HAS TO BARTER YOUR VOTES IN CONGRESS AND REPRESENT POWER INTERESTS IN RETURN FOR THE BUCK$.

POORER AMERICANS HAVE NEVER HAD THE $$$ LOBBY TO INFLUENCE THIS CORRUPT POLITICAL CONCEPT (of horse trading political votes for political contributions) TO ACHIEVE PROPER HEALTH ~CARE OR LEGAL REPRESENTATION FOR ALL OUR MIDDLE ~ CLASS AND WORKING POOR AMERICANS.

AMERICAN IVORY TOWER U.S.CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD HAVE PASSED FEDERAL LEGISLATION IN WASHINGTON DC TO SPEND 50 BILLION AMERICAN TAX $$$ ON THE INTERNATIONAL FIGHT AGAINST AIDS OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS WHILE THEIR OWN AMERICAN CITIZENS ARE BEING TOLD BY THIS SAME U.S.CONGRESS THAT NATIONAL HEALTH CARE AND PROPER LEGAL REPRESENTATION FOR MIDDLE CLASS AND WORKING POOR CITIZENS IS UNAFFORDABLE.

*** WEALTHY ELITE AMERICANS (WHO ARE ONLY 1% OF OUR USA POPULATION) SADLY ALSO CONTROL HOW OUR U.S.CONGRESS SPENDS THEIR BUDGET TRILLION$ AND HAVE OBVIOUSLY FOUND MORE WORTHY INTERNATIONAL CITIZENS THEN OUR OWN DESPERATE AND NEEDY POOR TO ASSIST !!!

~Poorer Americans Nationwide only get 400 million $$$ per year for legal representation allocated them by CONGRESS~

Middle Class and Working Poor Americans are unable to afford proper legal representation in their Civil, Criminal and Family Courts of law all across America causing tremendous hardships nationwide,but these great minds and callous hearts in our American Congress have found others Worldwide more needy then their own citizens who are being falsely incarcerated,wrongfuly executed,losing their homes or apartments,losing child custody or visitation with their children etc…

Not being afforded proper legal representation by our U.S. Congress has created a total breakdown of the American judicial system for our poorer Americans because the our U.S. Courts punish all of us little people if we are not assisted with proprer legal counsel.It is a known fact that our average Middle Class and Working Poor Americans without proper legal representation in all of our American Courts of law lose their legal cases to the better financed who are able to afford lawyers.

Lawyers For Poor Americans is now actively in the hunt for International Countries and Leaders Worldwide to help raise 5 Billion Dollar$ for our slighted poorer Americans who have had their own American Congress turn their backs on their desperate needs in not affording them proper legal representation.

Troy Davis and Mumia Abu – Jamal are 2 perfect examples of American citizens who never had proper legal representation or defense investigations afforded them by our U.S. Congressional Leaders Of The Free World in their initial criminal trials in (Georgia and Pennsylvania) who might very well have to pay the ultimate price of possibly being completely innocent and falsely executed in the near future.

These two poor Americans are perfect examples of
the tens of thousands of legal cases nationwide that never were afforded proper legal representation or proper defense investigation at their initial trials.**We the public really have no idea if these men are innocent or guilty until they both are given fair legal representation at their new future trials.

Improper murder trials take place in Third World Countries all the time. *** Why should average Middle~Class and Working Poor Americans in the Wealthiest Country Of The World be treated as if they are living a Third World Life Style ??

This is the first of many www International pleas by Lawyers For Poor Americans for other leaders and countries to help raise the needed monie$ to correct these blatant injustices that have been inflicted on poorer Americans for the last few decades.

Lawyers For Poor Americans has many other written articles that can be viewed with any www search engine by our name or our telephone number.

Lawyers For Poor Americans is a www lobby group of volunteers that sing out about the decades old neglect,abuse and injustices being inflicted on our poorer Americans that have become Crimes Against Humanity issues for the International World Court to investigate.

lawyersforpooreramericans@yahoo.com
(424-247-2013)

re: Texas Justice: Where wrongful convictions are the norm

Please post my press release on prison, crime and justice
A Story That Needs To Be Told
The Criminal Mind Never Sleeps
Prison reform has become just words to keep the tax dollars flowing into these correctional institutions.

Releasing prisoners by lawmakers because of overcrowding prisons is insane and shows why federal and state prisons are failing society.

This letter will inform the mind and startle the soul of how our prisons have become contaminated with flaws imbedded with unthinking unknowing or corrupted officials and political Bureaucrats.
Federal and State Prisons are overcrowded and costly to taxpayers. In California for example, they have approximately 33 prisons that are filled with about 153,000 inmates they are overcrowded by about 50,000 criminals and all of them are living off the taxpayers.
Lawmakers and their legal system have pressed the courts for decades to put these criminals behind bars at taxpayers’ expense. Now that the California prisons are overcrowding and becoming too much to support, the legal system and California government officials are considering a new law that will reduce the prison population in three-years by a staggering 55,000 prisoners.
We now have a prison recidivism rate of 79% in one to three-years. How can lawmakers justify that more of their laws will free thousands of criminals and over 75% of them will commit more crimes.
And the same law-enforcement officers will again be danger trying to re-arrest these same criminals and put them back behind bars at taxpayers’ expense.
Gang wars are taking over our society like butter melting over a hot stove. Our prisons are infested with gangs that come from ghettos of our society. Prisons-Officials and Lawmakers cannot stop these gangs from continuing their crimes in prisons.
How can anyone in the Judicial System favor releasing so many repeat felons knowing that the criminal mind never sleeps in prisons? Prison officials know that repeat felons get more violent and evil minded from dealing with so much corruption in the prison systems that’s disaster-prone and can not be repaired.
Preparing prisoners to reform in today’s prisons without re-socializing them is hypocritical and life-threatening. But it keeps the taxpayer’s money flowing into the system and this does not seem to bother the fathers of our justice system and lawmakers, who keep pushing for more laws to protect criminal rights.
In Mexico, the crime rates are high and that breeds a lot of corruption in their society and in law-enforcement officials. They now have the highest kidnapping rate in the world. When these Mexicans and millions of other illegal immigrants keep pouring over the boarders in our county crime rates keep increasing. Phoenix Arizona now has the second highest kidnapping rate in the world.
The federal panel of justice decision makers within our government is trying to sell the American taxpayers a stimulus package that will get the economy going again. I see that the Governors of each state are helping to reduce the deficit in this country by closing prisons and trying to reduce prison populations and prison staff.
You do not have to be a rocket scientist to understand that our society is filled with more violence than in the history of the United States. So how can prison officials, whom have turned into political followers, be allowed to make decisions while they think they are keeping society and prisons safe?
Here is how I see the past and future of prisons. As a society we cannot afford to release dangerous prisoners frivolously. Our criminal justice system was developed by lawmakers to pass laws to put these criminals behind bars. The recidivism rates are now off the charts and we are still supporting murderers, rapist, drug pushers and mentally unstable felons in and out of prisons. Our children are in danger because 90% of sex-offenders and pedophiles’ keep returning to prisons committing the same crimes.
Prison officials and lawmakers are now releasing criminals from prison that are not fully rehabilitated or disciplined. That’s why repeat felons along with illegal immigrants commit most of the crimes in the United States.
I worked in an “All Male Maximum-Security Prison” for almost three decades and I say with experience and sound mind that behind those prison walls is a failing prison system controlled by criminals and prison officials are so politically orientated that they worry more about pleasing their officials and prisoner’s rights then keeping prisons safe.
My books “Hell Behind Prison Walls” and “The Devil’s Den of Prison and Justice” are true compelling and gripping stories taken from my personal thoughts and prison experiences that will inform the mind and startle the soul.
Our prisons are filled with approximately eighty-percent of thugs and gangsters that are career criminals hooking up with old gang members from the streets of our society and without remorse continue their crime sprees in prisons.
Now that correctional officers have been downgraded from being the backbone of the prison system to glorified babysitters, they are living in constant fear of their superiors for violating criminal’s rights and using too much force when trying to protect them-selves from violent inmates. This is not what prisons were intended for.
These violent criminals not only control our prison compounds, but have turned our correctional facilities and courtrooms into their personal playgrounds hiding behind their civil rights, while they continue to violate the civil rights of others. This is so appalling and degrading to taxpayers’ that pay over “one-hundred-billion-dollars” a year to keep the ”Criminal Justice System” going to fight crimes in this country... And forty-nine billion dollars of that money is spent on the department of corrections.
“A Nightmare from Hell” is how I describe working in one of the most dangerous prisons in the country, The Elmira Correctional Facility.
I invite you to review my website www.johnpecchio.com that will introduce my books, which has generated great interest in readers around the country and are regional best-sellers.
I survived working in this prison system in New York State as a vocational instructor, dealing with so many violent and non-violent inmates of all ages.
Prison staff lives in constant fear of moving daily between freedom and captivity, while walking a delicate line between administrative politics and the threat of inmate violence.
I offer unique insight into the inner-workings of “America’s prisons”. In addition, I give readers a definitive look into the causes behind their major problems, which were shockingly created by lawmakers and prison officials.
You can now read how federal and state prisons have deteriorated to their worst condition in the history of these institutions. They have changed from being run with dignity and strong security into a hellish nightmare where corruption is the norm.
With the loss of positive leadership in our prisons came the increase of prisoner’s power, primarily caused by their ability to hide behind highly-defended “Civil Rights”, which has now taken precedence above all else. These rights allowed them to live without fear of strong retribution for their actions, thereby leading to a breakdown in inmate behavior and resulting in riots, fights, and physical and verbal abuse of prison workers.
I have personally suffered the negative effects of this volatile environment when I was brutally attacked by a prisoner who was serving two life sentences for multiple murders. This attack, which I describe in devastating detail, was induced by the ongoing failing prison systems along with the lack of prisoner and administrative discipline.
The truth can be found from letters and personal remarks I received from many readers, which can be reviewed on my website guest-book. You can also see a video commercial and read along with newspaper interviews.
Contact for (Prison Presentation) (Book Signings) and (Interviews) visit my Website - www.johnpecchio.com.

Sincerely

John J. Pecchio

re: Texas Justice: Where wrongful convictions are the norm

Now, now! Texas has some positive things going on, too!

As the former Policy Director of the Innocence Project of Texas (lost my job in July thanks to the Madoff scandal), it's worth mentioning that part of the reason Texas leads the nation in exonerations is that Dallas County, almost alone among large jurisdictions nationally, kept their old rape kits going back to the early '80s.

So we had a large number of exonerations from one county simply because they could actually test the old cases. If other jurisdictions had kept their old evidence, it's reasonable to presume they might be seeing similarly large numbers.

It's not that other states sent fewer innocent people to prison, it's just impossible to get them out without new evidence.

re: Texas Justice: Where wrongful convictions are the norm

Thanks for pointing this out -- it's an important clarification and I'll make sure to include more specifics on why Dallas stands out in future coverage. Again thanks!

re: Texas Justice: Where wrongful convictions are the norm

Bravo Grits, your comment really just about changed everything about perceptions of Texas justice. I was considering moving to west Texas to be free of zoning and gun control, and the article nearly changed my mind, but then your comment has probably changed it back.

re: Texas Justice: Where wrongful convictions are the norm

I live in west texas been here for about five years and it almost sickening to your stomache the way law inforcement throw waay our young lives to reach some kind of quota or get a "bonus". It can even be personal. All they haVe to do is get one guy in prison with a plea bargain to testify aginst you. If that one guy doesnt get on the stand and say what the government wants them to then the government can take the plea bargain back. Its that simple . U COULD SPEND THE REST OF YOUR LIFE IN PRISON IF SOMEONE ALREADY IN PRISON SAY THEY SAW U COMMIT A CRIME THE GOVERNMENT DOESNT NEED ANY PHYSICAL EVIDENCE. NON. THE QUESTION IS WHO CAN FIX THIS AND WHEN. WHY ARE THEY SITTING ON THEIR BUTS ALLOWING PEOPLE TO BE CAGD AWAY LIKE ANIMALS FOR CRIMES THEY DIDNT COMMIT.IT HURTS TO THINK ABOUT THATS ACTUALLY THE WAY THINGS ARE RAN IN OUR COUNTRY

re: Texas Justice: Where wrongful convictions are the norm

Not to downplay the need for help on death row , but there is a ever growing need for awareness of wrongful convictions period . I was recently released by orders of a federal court after serving ten years on a wrongful conviction! I have now been out just over a month, and I am currently trying to seek justice for the man who worked on my case for 9 and a half years his is a murder case that resulted in a life sentence that should be a lesser charge . Dosent that deserve attention too? If you know anyone who is willing to look at this case my e- mail is available at yahoo.com

re: Texas Justice: Where wrongful convictions are the norm

please spare the BS I live in Canada and have heard through news and history that Texas especially is know to be one of the most racist and red neck country. Who sends someone for rape to prison for 15,20,23years to life and on death row and does not give a far trail. Hello we are not in a third world country. It is time to come out of the dark ages and get into the modern times. Sounds pretty scary down south

re: Texas Justice: Where wrongful convictions are the norm

The Constitution gives every American the inalienable right to make a damn fool of himself.

re: Texas Justice: Where wrongful convictions are the norm

Texas is as a very rich, polotical,and racist place to live. Because of it the poloticians here will do anything to get money for their familys future trust funds. And nothin screams money in Texas, to a polotician, like an un-law educated wrongly convicted citizens already in the poverty class. They take all the money from funds that are soppose to be for the material and health needs of the prisoners and instead they pocket it. The Govenor is the head ring leader and the lawmakers in Washington know it to. They have been so ademate in trying ti keep the black and poorer citizens dowm thet they have let these hispanics come all in our state and country and cause the e biggest drug war this country is ever going to see. They have let the hispanics take over t.v stations, grocery stores, small business and minority food chains. They have turn the Social Security Administration on its back, filing for ilegal and illigitamate social security numbers. Now that the recession has hit the people affected haven't been able to get welfare help because the hispanics have taken so many funds over the years. The goverment wants us to believe that there are just to many black minoriies on welfare but the truth is the money has been taken up by the hispanics. They have refused to help the black man but they have been supporting and feeding and providing housing to the hispanics mothers, girlfriends, and wifes of drug dealers and illegal imagrants of hispanic men. Again this is where the goverment gets it's money by, claiming to have all these legal imagrants. Open your eyes and take away the power that we have given them to control us and our poverty status.