Sunday, January 21, 2007

Man Cleared By DNA Test Still Listed As Sex Offender

Dallas News

Twenty-four years after he was sent to prison for a crime he did not commit,
50-year-old James Waller returned to court Wednesday to hear prosecutors and a
Dallas judge apologize and pledge to help him clear his name.

A DNA analysis of the 1982 crime evidence ruled conclusively last month that Mr. Waller is not the man who broke into an Old East Dallas apartment and raped a 12-year-old boy. But the scientific victory is just part of the battle, and Mr. Waller's quest for complete exoneration is far from over.

[...] Mr. Waller is the 12th Dallas County man to be exonerated of felony charges through DNA tests in the last five years. District Attorney Craig Watkins and national leaders of the exoneration movement said Mr. Waller's case is further cause to re-examine previous prosecution practices in Dallas County.

This pattern definitely tells me that they have a problem with how matches are made and/or verified between victim descriptions and potential suspects. There's definitely a danger that if the suspect shares physical traits with the real criminal that the rest of the investigation will not be as complete as it should be and will discount the importance of evidence which indicates this person is not the real criminal.

Like many of the 190 exonerations nationwide made possible by DNA tests, Mr. Waller's wrongful conviction was based on mistaken identification. Although the 12-year-old victim said he never got a good look at his attacker because the man was wearing a bandana over his face, he later identified Mr. Waller based solely on his eyes and voice.

If a faulty investigation creates a situation where a real victim is led toward identifying the wrong person, that's traumatic to the victim as well and causes many people to assume that rape victims deliberately lie or that their testimony can never be trusted.

That doesn't appear to be how the innocent man was initially identified in this case.

Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, said the number of exonerations in Dallas County "demands a closer look and statewide action." He said there is no clear reason there have been so many wrongful convictions in Dallas, but "many of the cases have to do with eyewitness identification." That was true with Waller.

A day after the rape, the boy was at a convenience store when he heard Waller's voice and became convinced Waller was the man who attacked him in his apartment.
Earlier, the boy had told police that he never saw the attacker face-to-face and that the man had worn a bandanna covering most of his face.

Waller was also heavier and taller than the man described by the youngster. Waller and his family were the only black residents of the apartment complex, according to the Innocence Project.

However a suspect is identified, the result of flawed processes can be that more innocent people get convicted, especially if the defendant fits the jury's image of a rapist, while more guilty people with sufficient evidence against them may be seen as automatically having reasonable doubt, especially if the defendant doesn't fit the jury's image of a rapist.

As I read about this case, I can't help but wonder if all those who say the prosecution of the Duke case is a hoax -- and who state they are interested in all who are falsely accused or convicted -- are rallying on behalf men like this. And when I say rallying, I mean doing more than pointing to these types of cases as evidence to support their assertions in the Duke case.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:43 AM   1 comments links to this post


At January 21, 2007 11:04 AM, Anonymous thinking girl said...

Marcella - I tagged you. Not a silly one, this one's important. come on over and see.


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