By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
So, obviously, we've never understood why men like James Curtis Giles, the 13th man recently found to be wrongly convicted in Dallas County, often thank God on their way to having their names cleared. "I thank God I had people on my side who wanted to get it right," Giles told The Dallas Morning News this week after a judge ruled he should be cleared of a 1982 rape. That seems to be the pattern: Get screwed; get cleared; thank God. Buzz would be more inclined to ask the deity some questions about that screwing part.
Giles was in Austin on Tuesday and unavailable, so we talked with Jeff Blackburn, an Amarillo lawyer and a director of the Innocence Project of Texas, which is working on Giles' case. Don't any of these guys come out of the pen angry, bitter or—most likely—suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, we wondered?
Well, yeah, Blackburn says, at least on the latter.
"They're living in a world of complete conflict," he says. "On the one hand, they tend to be very grateful, and they're glad to be out. On the other hand, it shouldn't have happened...Overlaying all that is they just don't know how to live in the world."
Blackburn has come to know five of the exonerated pretty well on a personal level. Twenty years in "a cage in hell"—losing the most productive years of life, missing out on changes in the world—is more than a little "praise God" and a maximum $500,000 in compensation from the state can fix, he says. He compares the men to crime victims. They have a strong need to see justice done to the prosecutors and cops who might have misbehaved to win wrongful convictions. At the least, an apology from those responsible would be nice. Better still: "A crime's been perpetrated against these guys, and you've got to find [those responsible] and punish them," Blackburn says.
Think that will never happen because this is, after all, Texas? You might be right. Why, it's about as unlikely as a black, justice-minded Democrat being elected Dallas County district attorney or seeing 13 innocent men exonerated. Just keep watching. Justice's scales may be rebalancing, and maybe it's time for some ex-prosecutors and cops to say a few prayers themselves.