By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
We looked up at the heavens with a tear-soaked smile, raising our arms in joy.
This is the exact opposite of how things used to be under the Bill Hill regime where critical reporters were treated as respectfully as a homeless couple at a Junior League ball. Then, reporters, particularly those from the Dallas Observer, had to make a series of phone calls before we could so much as get a spokesperson on the phone. Then, we'd wait for days, if not weeks, before receiving a scripted and not particularly informative response. All too often, Hill's office would deny our public information requests only to have the Texas Attorney General's Office send them a letter lecturing them about the law.
Of course, Hill's office didn't just treat journalists like crap. They showed the same contempt to defense attorneys, who now, in a delicious irony, practically control the criminal justice complex. Hill often refused to turn over crucial evidence to the defense until minutes before trial.
But enough about us: Watkins' apparent openness is even good news for those pesky innocent people Dallas County has a habit of sending to jail. Earlier this month, when Andrew Gossett of Garland was freed from prison after DNA testing cleared him of a 1999 sexual assault for which he'd been sentenced to 50 years in prison, Watkins was in the courtroom to shake his hand, apologize and offer to help him win a pardon and compensation.
We checked a map. Yes, this is still Dallas County.
"I think the change in command makes all the difference in the world," Gossett's lawyer Bruce Anton told our blog, Unfair Park. Anton said Hill's office routinely fought defense requests for retesting of DNA evidence after convictions.
"We're reviewing the policy, and we're going to change it," Watkins said. "If it proves they committed the crime, hell, they're where they should be. If not, then they need to be out. It's not about convictions. It's about doing the right thing."
OK, we may be in Dallas County, but somehow we slipped into the Twilight Zone.