Craig Watkins

TEXAS – Should prosecutors be punished for withholding evidence ?

may 23, source 2012

Must-read stuff from Texas Monthly, including a fascinating roundtable discussion among exoneree Anthony Graves, the prosecutor who helped clear him, Kelly Siegler, state Sen. Rodney Ellis, Austin police chief Art Acevedo, Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Barbara Hervey, and Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins:

Lots of interesting tidbits from the roundtable, but let’s point out one interesting discussion below the jump about whether training is sufficient to cause prosecutors to hand over exculpatory evidence to the defense, or if punishment is needed for noncompliance.
Remarkably, Kelly Siegler declared that ” I have been a prosecutor my whole life, and I am telling you, we are not properly trained in how to deal with Brady. That’s separate and apart from criminal prosecutors like Charles Sebesta. We are talking two different things here.” Given that Brady has been around since (just) before Grits was born, I find that extraordinary. So did Chief Acevedo, who had this exchange with her:

Acevedo: … I’ve got to tell you, it really bothers me when I hear prosecutors say that prosecutors don’t understand Brady, when, as a police chief, I use Brady to fire people.

Siegler: You’re thinking that Brady is this black-and-white, clear-cut thing. That’s not what Brady is in the world of prosecutors. …

Acevedo: I’m not an attorney, but if I’ve got information that is exculpatory, I have a moral obligation to—

Siegler: “Exculpatory” is an easy word to use, but we’re talking about inconsistent evidence, mitigating evidence—that too. And I guarantee you every single one of the cops that work for you don’t put in their offense reports every single little inconsistent thing they know.

Acevedo: Oh, absolutely. But you know what? Here’s the piece that is missing, that Anthony’s talking about. You can train people all you want, but you’re dealing with human beings. If there are not consequences for willful misconduct, you can have all the training in the world, you can have all the rules in the world.

Graves: You gotta do more than train.

Acevedo: It drives me nuts that I have 180 days [from the time of misconduct to discipline a police officer]. That’s all I have. One hundred and eighty days. That’s nothing. There should not be a statute of limitations when it comes to violating the public trust. And cops will hate me for saying that. Prosecutors will hate me for saying that. But in a democracy, if our criminal justice system doesn’t work, we are in deep trouble. And it starts with those consequences.

Acevedo called for criminal prosecution of prosecutors who break the law, as Kelly Siegler alleged Charles Sebesta did in Anthony Graves’ case. (She called the retired DA a “criminal”; I’ll bet TM’s libel lawyers had a field day vetting that one!) The problem with criminalizing prosecutor misconduct is, as in Sebesta’s case, what prosecutor would prosecute it, especially against a sitting elected DA who’s the boss of all the prosecutors who might do so?

On the civil side, Siegler insists there can be no reduction of immunity, but I wish Acevedo had pressed that point, too. Police officers only have “qualified” instead of “absolute” immunity like prosecutors, which basically means they can be held liable only when they knowingly and intentionally violate someone’s civil rights. (In practice, qualified immunity covers nearly all lawsuits citizens bring against police – very few get past the summary judgment stage.) But the actions for which police officers have immunity are usually things done in the blink of an eye – the gun fired, the punch thrown, the chase engaged, the red light run, etc.. By contrast, prosecutors can sit in their offices for months deciding whether or not to disclose exculpatory evidence, but if they knowingly, intentionally withhold it they have “absolute” immunity. Grits sees no good reason prosecutors should have greater immunity than police officers, and I’d love to hear any prosecutors or their defenders please explain in the comments WHY they should.

There’s quite a bit more in the roundtable discussion, from which I just pulled one interesting tidbit, so read the whole thing.

DALLAS COUNTY : Exonerates Two More Men, 30 Years After the Crime They Didn’t Commit

April 30 source :

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This morning, two men stood in the same courtroom where they were convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to life in prison for a rape and shooting that happened almost 30 years ago. This time, both were smiling, as they were one step closer to exiting the criminal justice hell that consumed the last three decades of their lives.

Raymond Jackson and James Curtis Williams donned suits and were surrounded by friends, family and fellow exonerees, as Judge Susan Hawk, with her declaration of relief from conviction based on actual innocence, granted them entrance into the ever-expanding brotherhood of Dallas County exonerees. This morning’s double exoneration hearing comes just weeks after the exoneration of three men for one crime.

With dozens of men having come before them and about 10 sitting behind them in the audience, it’s clear that systematic flaws that have lead to so many wrongful convictions. Under District Attorney Craig Watkins, Dallas County has been famously proactive in freeing the wrongfully convicted. But what’s less readily apparent is how deep the problem runs.

“I know for a fact” there are other innocent men in prison, Williams said to the crowd gathered after the hearing. “You will not get the proper representation if you are poor,” he added. “A lot of them had to cop out to cases that they knew they was innocent on because they didn’t want to face the jury.”

He and Jackson never backed down. Both had been released on parole in the past two years. “We knew in our heart and we thank God,” Williams said.

Judge Hawk couldn’t find words strong enough for a suitable apology for what the men had faced.

“To say I’m sorry is not enough,” Hawk told the men. “I hope that you have full and happy lives.” The full courtroom cheered after the judge shook their hands. This was Hawk’s fourth exoneration hearing in her nine years on the bench, she said. All four cases were originally heard in the same 291st district courtroom in front of Judge Gerry Meier.

Former public defender Michelle Moore worked with Watkins’ Conviction Integrity Unit from its 2007 creation until last year. When she left her position, Julie Doucet took over. Moore said Jackson’s and Williams’ cases were initially rejected, until the Conviction Integrity Unit revisited them sometime around 2007 during an intense review of hundreds of cases.

“There was a lot of arguing about this one,” Moore says. “Finally, we found some evidence to test.” The biological evidence not only determined the innocence of Jackson and Williams, but it also revealed two men believed to be the actual perpetrators, both in prison for other crimes. Marion Sayles and Frederick Anderson have since been indicted for attempted capital murder.

As has become tradition on exoneration mornings, District Attorney Watkins addressed the courtroom when the hearing was over. “We are doing something wrong with our criminal justice system and we need to fix it,” Watkins said. He addressed the two men, adding, “I am sorry the criminal justice system was not working for you.”

Jackson wasn’t mad, only thankful. “I hold no grudge against the victim. I’m just thankful that they had DNA and they kept ours,” he said.

But accountability in this case, as in many similar cases, is tough to nail down.

“I think the real thing was just getting you convicted, and they didn’t care whether you was innocent or not,” Jackson said. If a jury sees a distraught victim and she identifies the men in court as having done the crime, Williams said, it’s pretty tough to convince a jury otherwise. He added that the jurors in their cases were all white.

“Back then the system was different,” Jackson said. And while the system “back then” put him in prison, he’s sure glad the system now cleared his name. Williams had a different explination: “See, this is a miracle.”

DALLAS – 2 men to be exonerated in Dallas sex assault case

april 27 source :

Two men convicted of raping a woman outside a Dallas bar almost 30 years ago will be declared innocent after DNA testing implicated two other men in the attack, authorities said Friday.

James Curtis Williams and Raymond Jackson received life sentences for the November 1983 assault but were recently released on parole.

They will be formally declared innocent in Dallas County court Monday morning. The two other men,Frederick Anderson and Marion Doll Sayles, will be charged with attempted capital murder, authorities said.

Dallas County has now exonerated 32 people since 2001, most during the tenure of District Attorney Craig Watkins. Almost all of those exonerations have involved faulty eyewitness identifications.

Authorities say the woman was forced into a vehicle at gunpoint and later sexually assaulted by two men. She was then shot and left for dead in a field.

Williams and Jackson had been implicated in another sexual assault case and were placed in a photo lineup for this one, said Russell Wilson, the prosecutor in charge of Dallas County’s conviction integrity unit. The victim picked them out of the lineup.

The Associated Press does not name victims of sexual assault.

DNA collected from the woman’s clothing and a rape kit exam was preserved and later tested. Tests linked the DNA to Anderson and Sayles.

After they were convicted, Williams and Jackson pleaded guilty in the other sexual assault case and received shorter sentences that have since expired, authorities said. The men didn’t challenge their convictions in that case and will still have to register as sex offenders because of that crime, said Julie Doucet, an attorney in the Dallas County public defender’s office.

“They’re extremely happy to finally be cleared of this crime,” she said.

Williams, now 54, will no longer be on parole after Monday. Jackson, 67, will for a robbery committed in 1970, Doucet said.

The charges to be brought against Anderson, 52, and Sayles, 55, are rare. Despite the high number of exonerations in Dallas County, only three people have been prosecuted in cases where someone was wrongfully convicted, said Jamille Bradfield, a spokeswoman for the Dallas County district attorney.

In this case, prosecutors are charging Anderson and Sayles with attempted capital murder because that crime doesn’t carry a statute of limitations, Wilson said.

Anderson is being held in the Dallas County jail, and a bench warrant has been issued for Sayles, Wilson said. Neither man had an attorney listed in online jail records.