Chains of Evidence

How did Dallas convict so many innocents? With faulty eyewitnesses, sloppy police work and overzealous prosecutors.

When she viewed the live lineup a few hours later, Sharon realized it was the same six people. She asked if she could hear them speak. She picked out Pope, the only one with a tan and blond hair.

Sharon testified that she was "shaking because, you know, I recognized him and I felt all the fear and the death as when I was standing right next to him."

But as defense attorney Curtis Glover would point out, the detectives, feeling her identification was tentative, put Sharon in a room and told her she needed to make a "definitive statement."

Veteran defense attorney Michael Ware is working with Texas Wesleyan School of Law students to review requests for DNA tests from 400 people convicted in Dallas County.
Mark Graham
Veteran defense attorney Michael Ware is working with Texas Wesleyan School of Law students to review requests for DNA tests from 400 people convicted in Dallas County.

After being alone for a half-hour, Sharon emerged to say she was "positive" he was the rapist.

At trial, Larry Howe Williams, an officer with the Houston Police Department, presented "spectrographic" comparisons of the defendant's voice reading into a tape recorder and the tapes made of the rapist's repeated calls.

Williams had no college degree but had taken a two-week training course. He showed how the recordings made similar zigzags on a paper drum and testified that the tapes of the "unknown" matched David Pope. There was no possibility of inaccuracy.

The prosecution also offered a pioneer in voice identification, who likened voiceprints to fingerprints.

The defense called an expert on voice analysis who testified that voice spectrographic analysis was "useless" because it had never been scientifically proven. But the jury was left with the impression that the match was "scientific."

After he was evicted, Pope lived with Craig Furche and his parents in Garland. Both father and son Furche were painting contractors. Pope worked for the son.

The night before the rape, Furche and Pope had gone to see the newly released movie Back to the Future. Furche remembered it because Pope had already seen the movie and liked it so much he wanted to see it again; he had to borrow money from his boss until payday. Then the two went home, went to bed and got up the next day to work. Pope couldn't have been in Sharon's apartment.

Pope testified in his own defense, saying that he'd bought the white pants found in the truck at a garage sale without trying them on, thinking they'd be good painter's pants. They turned out to be much too small for him, as he demonstrated to the jury. The steak knife in the trunk was with a bunch of other utensils and household goods from his move.

Prosecutor Kimberley Gilles connected the personal data the rapist had given Sharon on the tape recordings: that he was 24 and went to Eastfield Community College, just like Pope. But the rapist had also said he was 20 and several other ages. And Pope went to Richland Community College, not Eastfield. Gilles waved away that discrepancy by saying the two schools were in the same community college system.

The jury took little time to convict. Sentenced to 45 years in prison, Pope was pardoned in 2001.

Spectrographic analysis still is not considered reliable enough for court. Instead of comparing the defendant's voice to the tape, Wells says, police should have provided the expert with recordings of five other male voices and asked which voice matched the perpetrator's phone calls.

"Police say, 'We know this guy did it,'" Wells says. "'What we need is for somebody to throw some electronic measurements on this so you can come into court and say it's the same guy.'"

Wells calls this the "CSI effect," in which juries regard forensic evidence such as bite marks, hair and fiber samples, and other techniques as more scientific than they really are.

DNA is the only forensic tool that came from scientists, Wells points out. "It's not scientists actually doing the work," he says. "It may be a cop with a biology degree, but it's a cop. The co-opting of forensic science has played well in the courtroom."

The TV show CSI has had one positive impact, says Judge Myers, by raising jurors' expectations about the thoroughness of police investigations. In the 13 Dallas DNA exonerations, once the victims identified suspects, little effort was expended to gather more physical evidence.

"As a judge, I've seen in the last five years that police are doing a lot more than what they had done in the past as to collection of physical evidence," Myers says. "Jurors expect it in light of CSI. They are more skeptical."

Prosecutors still query potential jurors: If it comes down to the testimony of one witness, could you convict? Myers says more jurors are saying no.

On the morning of Saturday, April 26, 1981, Carol C. woke to being rolled over and straddled by a man with a knife. She struggled for the knife but after her attacker cut her several times, Carol stopped. He raped her and within five minutes disappeared.

The police arrived at her Oak Lawn apartment within 10 minutes to find Carol covered with blood.

At Parkland hospital, a doctor stitched up Carol's hand and gave her a rape exam. Carol, who was white, described the man to police as black, average build, in his 20s, with a short Afro and regular features. Though the room was dark, she'd seen him with the light from a clock radio.

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