When Innocent Prisoners Finally Go Free, Their Prosecutors Do, Too

On the trail for justice with Texas' exonerees.

What most people in the courtroom, including Miles and his lawyer, did not know was that an anonymous caller had told police that someone else was the shooter. And a second undisclosed police report detailed a fight between the two victims and a third man five days before the shooting.

These reports didn't surface until 2007, when Centurion Ministries, an innocence advocacy non-profit, asked for them. Evidence of Miles' innocence began building as advocates and Miles' lawyer continued digging. Finally, in 2010, Thurman recanted his original statement.

But it wasn't the first time Thurman had balked at identifying Miles. When he recanted, he also revealed to the Dallas District Attorney's office that he had told D'Amore he would not be able to identify Miles during the 1995 trial. But D'Amore simply pointed to where Miles would be sitting and told him to single out the man he had already identified to police, Thurman said. (D'Amore denies that ever happened.)

Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins (left) and Russell Wilson of the Conviction Integrity Unit have made their names pursuing innocence claims.
Mark Graham
Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins (left) and Russell Wilson of the Conviction Integrity Unit have made their names pursuing innocence claims.
Michael Morton was wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife. He’s now trying to get the prosecutor on his case charged with a crime.
Drew Gaines
Michael Morton was wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife. He’s now trying to get the prosecutor on his case charged with a crime.

The Court of Criminal Appeals published a lengthy opinion in February supporting Miles' innocence, noting the two police reports and Thurman's recantation, and explaining that the gun-residue science had proven unreliable in the time since the original trial. It was this documentation of his innocence that landed Miles back in a Dallas courtroom this year for the symbolic affair, and for his declaration that he would pursue the retribution that eludes most exonerees.

It certainly eluded Anthony Graves. On August 18, 1992, Bobbie Davis, her daughter, and her four grandchildren were murdered in a brutal stabbing in Somerville, their house set ablaze. Robert Carter was convicted of the crime, and he singled out Graves as his accomplice. Both men were sentenced to death.

But in 2006, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Graves' conviction based mainly on negligence by the prosecutor, Charles Sebesta, who never divulged that Carter confessed to committing the murders alone.

Special Prosecutor Kelly Siegler was assigned to reinvestigate the case. She turned up something that shocked her: nothing. With no evidence to retry the case, she became convinced of Graves' innocence.

"It's a prosecutor's responsibility to never fabricate evidence or manipulate witnesses or take advantage of victims," Siegler told reporters in dismissing the case, according to Texas Monthly. "And unfortunately, what happened in this case is all of those things."

The State Bar of Texas dismissed a complaint alleging misconduct. Sebesta has never been disciplined, but he maintains a website defending his actions in the case.

Then there's Kerry Max Cook. In 1977, Cook's neighbor Linda Jo Edwards was found dead, struck in the head with a statue, repeatedly stabbed and mutilated. Cook's fingerprints were found on her door. A jury convicted him and sentenced him to death.

But after a complicated series of trials, mistrials and guilty verdicts, in 1996 the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed his conviction and basically accused the DA's office of railroading him. Prosecutors had presented the testimony of a jail-house informant who said Cook had admitted guilt, but a deal to reduce the informant's sentence was never revealed. After the informant's release, he admitted that he fabricated Cook's confession — a fact unknown to the defense until years after the trial.

Prosecutors had also depicted Cook and his neighbors as strangers, which raised questions about the presence of his fingerprints. They failed to disclose that, according to Cook's friend, the two knew each other. She'd even invited him over for a tryst.

"In conclusion," the court ruled, "the State's misconduct in this case does not consist of an isolated incident or the doing of a police officer, but consists of the deliberate misconduct by members of the bar, representing the State over a 14-year period — from the initial discovery proceedings in 1977 through the first trial in 1978 and continuing with the concealment of misconduct until 1992."

Cook was released from prison, but he still has not been formally exonerated, as prosecutors continue to fight to keep him from being labeled innocent. Jack Skeen, the prosecutor who handled Cook's case, is now a Smith County district judge.

And on it goes. James Woodard was arrested for strangling and sexually assaulting his girlfriend in 1980, even though the victim's acquaintance told prosecutors that he'd seen her leave a night of partying with two men, including an alleged sex criminal. Woodard was released in 2008. His prosecutor, Luke Laman, was never disciplined publicly. He practices law in Plano.

Dale Duke was convicted of molesting his stepdaughter in 1992 and sentenced to 20 years, despite his mother-in-law telling prosecutors that her granddaughter had concocted the abuse. The prosecutor on the case, Kate Porter, never shared her statement with Duke's attorney. She had died by the time Duke was exonerated.

"A lot of times ... [prosecutors] will think, 'Well, that's not credible or that's not true,' and that's not their job to do that," says Duke's attorney, Robert Udashen.

Adds Jeff Blackburn, of the Innocence Project of Texas: "I'm actually more and more convinced that you don't get somebody wrongfully convicted without prosecutorial misconduct on some level."

Meanwhile, it's so widely understood that prosecutors will not be punished by the State Bar that Gary Udashen, president of the Innocence Project of Texas (and Robert's brother), says he wouldn't even bother filing a grievance. "I'm not inclined to file a grievance against a prosecutor when I know it's going to get dismissed," he says. "It's going to look like I was wrong and he was right."

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7 comments
Debbie Zimm
Debbie Zimm

Once again we have the cases revisited. Kerry Max Cook needs to be exonerated. The story of MM is tragic, and I'm glad he is charging for reform. You can not give prosecuteors total immunity and listen to them say, "Trust me". Isolated instances don't cut it!! Imagine for a moment: You are cuffed in prison whites before the court... "I am the State of Texas and I've indicted you." "I am a prosecutor, my office will lie, cheat and fabricate evidence to convict you, guilty or not. We have a murder and our office needs a conviction. My political career is at stake and far more important than your life, liberty or pursuit of happiness. (smile) I am willing to withhold evidence and support police perjury. I am a prosecutor, untouchable, invinceable!! The State of Texas won't touch me!!" "Bow down heathen, plead guilty or accept the unchallenged power of the State!!" "You have a pathetic defense attorney. We have not given him all the evidence and we will press on to crush him and you." "The press will not report your case or do anything until you have spent minimum 25 years in prison, not enough drama!!" "How do you plea - heathen?" Well that's nice, but people are fighting back now. Tomorrow Rockwall County's 389th District court will hold the 10th due diligence hearing on this fugitive. After evading the law for 6 years and going public with documented police perjury and withheld evidence by the District Attorney... The original District Attorney (Billl Conradt) comitted suicide, but the current regime continues to fly the flag of corruption in the face of hard evidence: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nyzlyOROVYLQSaCXMlbQixwSK_rcP9uhXMJ4tg7LV9c/edit?pli=1 The Rockwall County Disrtict Attorney's Office has pages of documented corruption, including Sumrow's conviction of theft by a public servant and the national coverage of Conradt's suicide while being served an arrest warant: Louis William "Bill" Conradt, Jr. (January 30, 1950 – November 5, 2006) was a district attorney in Texas. He became inextricably linked to Dateline NBC's To Catch a Predator, a TV series which conducted sting operations against suspected sexual predators. Local law enforcement conducted a sting operation that identified Conradt as a suspect and Dateline cameras recorded the events that followed. Conradt fatally shot himself upon encountering SWAT team members that were serving an arrest warrant at his home. So this fellow Conradt was the District Attorney in David Swingle's suppression hearing - transcript as referenced in the above letter. Do you think this guy grew a halo at work? Get real, the police searched the car illegally, falsified the police report, stood up in court, lied about almost everything and Mr. Conradt Jr. withheld the evidence and went on to commit suicide. The Rockwall DA's office supports this and plows on with the 10th due diligence hearing on this matter tomorrow. Yes, this all happened, documented yet the cover up and corruption continues.

Skepticalgirl
Skepticalgirl

Craig Watkins is one of the few prosecutors in world, not just the United States. in making sure a case has integrity than in maintaining his conviction rate. His attitude is revolutionary in the field of criminal justice, and, were more prosecutors like him, trials would be less costly and we wouldn't see sad stories like this. Apparently, the Morning News (or, as a former DMN reporter and close friend says, the "Lying" Morning News) would rather have someone like Henry Wade than Watkins. It's a shame, because he is a treasure for this county and a good example for young lawyers to follow.

Halldecker
Halldecker

Ask Reed to recall the sign in the prosecutor's offices in the 70's and 80's, he likely had one: IT'S EASY TO CONVICT THE GUILTY. IT'S THE INNOCENT WHO MAKE US WORK HARD. If he can't, ask some of the Judges who practiced back then. I had lunch with one today, he remembers it when he was a prosecutor. He also remembered nearly every prosecutor's office had it. That was the culture under the "legendary Mr. Henry Wade." All these cases are from super-tough-on-crime-Repub DA's. Win-loss percentage was all that mattered.

Debbie Zimm
Debbie Zimm

The press is simply regurgitating these high profile cases while lots of misconduct is happening right now. If it is happening in this many high profile cases, extrapolate that to all cases and the numbers are truly epidemic. It happens every day in lots of courts. Until the press reports it and the people become aware, nothing will change. The State Bar did nothing with John Bradly, but the INFORMED people swiftly voted him out of office.

wrongfully accused
wrongfully accused

Keep thinking only gang bangers who "had it coming" get wrongfully prosecuted. It could happen to you even if you are a college graduate who has held 2 licenses with the state and a clean record for 28 years.

alison hicks
alison hicks

Sad how the entire System takes there Power and Control to take innocent lives away from Freedom!

Andy Myers
Andy Myers

Not in Texas! Surely you jest! This state is a mockery of criminal justice but no one cares as long as these morons talk "tough on crime."

 
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