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Dallas writer Joyce King, who recently joined the board of the Innocence Project of Texas, is spearheading the organization's month-long campaign called "Justice Delayed" to raise $1 million to benefit the DNA exonerees in the state of Texas and to fund research on other cases.
Hate Crime: The Story of a Dragging in Jasper, Texas, King's acclaimed book on the dragging death of James Byrd in 1998, cemented her place as a black woman interested in issues of race and justice. Formerly a radio broadcaster for CBS, King is also a columnist for USA Today.
"I think what I bring to the board is the perspective of that lay person, the ordinary citizen who asks how can I be more involved?" says King, who is the only non-lawyer on the board. "My role is to bring that voice of someone who is not a lawyer or judge, but a person with grave concerns about the legal system in her native state."
King and several of the exonerees will be going to law firms, corporations and foundations that donate money to the effort to talk about what ordinary citizens can do to promote justice.
King's last book was Forgotten Hurricane, about the aftermath of Hurricane Rita in southeast Texas. "It dealt with the area that has shown me a lot of love," says King. "It didn't get the attention Katrina got. It's still devastated."
King had been working on a fictional project about a poor parish in Louisiana when she wrote a column for USA Today about District Attorney Craig Watkins and the DNA exonerations in Dallas County.
After getting phone calls from people asking to know more, King called Watkins and spent a day shadowing him. "I said, 'Wow, he's sincere,'" King says. She sat in the packed courtroom when James Giles was exonerated. "There wasn't a dry eye in the house."
She was taken aback when she heard someone call Watkins the "hug-a-thug" district attorney.
"A lot of people don't like what Craig Watkins is doing," King says. "But no other D.A. in the country has opened their files to the Innocence Project. Obviously something is wrong when you have a steady stream of men coming out of prison who are innocent. He is a big-city D.A. who is doing something unprecedented. You cannot play down the fact that Craig Watkins is a black man. He has an enormous amount of supporters."
King decided to write the book to show what the exonerated men have endured. "People don't really see what these guys go through," King says. "I don't think people know what innocence projects do and how much labor goes into one case. I want everyone to know we are there and trying to do this amazing work and it needs money."