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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Exonerations Point at Urgency of Reform

Editorial: Exonerations point at urgency of reform 
The Dallas Morning News - EDITORIAL - May 4, 2012 DNA

technology has cast its magic again, clearing the names this week of two more innocent Dallas men who were railroaded in a rape case based on mistaken eyewitness testimony. Let them hear it again, right here: Raymond Jackson and James Williams are innocent. Repeating that sweet truth is the least we can do for them. They proclaimed it all along — at trial, on their way to prison, during decades behind bars, after parole. Neither cop, nor prosecutor nor juror would believe them. Only a scientific test could tip the stubborn scales of justice, after a push from DA Craig Watkins’ Conviction Integrity Unit, and find the real perpetrators after 29 years. But a cure-all DNA is not. It’s only the rare county that bothered to archive physical evidence, as Dallas County’s legendary hardball DA Henry Wade decided to do in the 1970s. That means righteous cries of innocence from most Texas inmates are unlikely to be confirmed by any lab test. The system desperately needs modern practices to avoid the breakdowns in justice that have been so thoroughly documented in the DNA era. For example, Jackson and Williams, both black men, were convicted by an all-white jury, a once-standard practice in Dallas County that was singled out for rebuke by the Supreme Court. Other pitfalls are writ in glowing neon — eyewitness ID being the most prominent — yet there are indications that some Texas police chiefs lack the sense of urgency to embrace minimum reforms passed by the Legislature. We wish they could have the Dallas perspective of watching court proceedings clear the names of 32 men in crimes they didn’t commit. The thread of faulty eyewitness ID runs through most of these tragically flawed cases. Law enforcement brass determined to cling to discredited police work of the past should attend the next exoneration hearing in Dallas. There surely will be another one.

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