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Letters, Week of November 8

Trinity Water Torture

What Mayor Kirk "forgot": Without Jim Schutze, Dallas' readers wouldn't have a clue as to what is really going on in the city! Thank you and thanks to Jim for accurate, brilliant investigative reporting.

In addition to the incidences Jim mentioned in his article on the Trinity River Plan ("Down the River," October 25), which was right on target, the mayor has "forgotten" to inform the public that he authorized the use of community development money to study the internal drainage problem in Cadillac Heights, that many of the homes that are targets for industrial development in that neighborhood already have been rezoned Industrial Research, which makes it obvious that putting up a levee around the neighborhood would be the last part of the plan to turn this neighborhood over to his developer friends.

In addition, the mayor well knows that the Corps of Engineers has stated that the Trinity project would raise the flood waters in the southern sector by one-fourth of an inch, at least.

Also, if he wanted to "protect" thousands of black families, he would not have stood by while a whole neighborhood in Floral Farms (a part of the only remaining historical black area in Dallas called Joppa) was taken away from them with the excuse that one of the streets going in sometimes had flooding problems.

Instead, the property was all condemned, and millions of dollars worth of infrastructure has been put in place so that Texas A&M (one of the richest universities in the United States) could come in with a small study center on the site. By the way, that site would employ approximately 10 scientists and maybe one janitor while the community was promised hundreds of jobs for area residents.

Look out if the mayor wants to come into your neighborhood to "protect" you!

Joanne Hill
Dallas

Sins of Omission

No rush to judgment: In the October 25 article titled "Bad Apples" by Charles Siderius (concerning the cases of Alvin Kelly, convicted of murdering a Longview, Texas, family, and Ronnie Lee Wilson, convicted of standing by and allowing the killings to happen), there are errors and omissions I would like to address.

Errors:

1. The subtitle to the story is sensational and misleading. The claim that I am working to free Kelly from Death Row (which also appears throughout the article) is completely false. I am not working on Kelly's case. That is being handled by others. The fact that I am investigating Wilson's case exclusively was clearly stated in the initial e-mail I sent to the Dallas Observer (excerpts of which appear in the article). And the reporter was informed of this fact again up front before we began discussing the case.

2. The statement that I "visited Wilson, read about his case and became convinced of his innocence" and then began collecting evidence is, again, completely incorrect. I investigated the case for 4 to 5 months to verify that there were serious inconsistencies worth pursuing further, prior to having any contact with Wilson. The reporter was made aware of this fact at the beginning of the process.

Omissions:

1. The Roy Bean tapes and files of his 1985 interviews and contacts with Cynthia May Cummings--which were never turned over to the defense during the two trials--have recently been reported missing by the Longview Police Department, according to the state Attorney General's Office. It is important to note that Cynthia testified in both trials that she had no contact with law enforcement officials or prosecutors prior to 1990. And Bean, who had turned over the initial lead on the case to detectives in charge and a prosecutor, according to Bean's 1997 affidavit, was never called to testify at the trials.

2. I have interviewed those who feel Wilson is not guilty at length. But the reporter failed to interview Wilson's parents, the alibi witnesses in his trial, defense investigators or others who either have concluded Wilson is innocent or who could have provided additional information and facts that counter the prosecution's case. Comments and information from these individuals, all of whom are law-abiding, decent citizens, would have certainly provided some balance and insight.

There are inconsistencies and discrepancies in the state's case against Wilson that warrant serious review. It is not enough to simply dismiss such inconsistencies by saying the jury heard the evidence and made their decision.

Juries are made up of humans who are capable of mistakes--especially when deprived of all the evidence--a fact demonstrated quite effectively by the number of wrongful convictions being overturned. As a society we fail ourselves when we adopt the position that factual innocence is no barrier to a sentence properly arrived at.

Eyewitness testimony--the primary evidence in Wilson's case--is being scrutinized more closely now than ever before in innocence cases. As noted by Rob Warden, journalist and executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University: "Erroneous eyewitness testimony--whether offered in good faith or perjured--no doubt is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions in the U.S. criminal justice system." On May 2, 2001, the center presented a study in which staff members "identified and analyzed 70 cases in which 84 men and two women had been sentenced to death but legally exonerated based on strong claims of actual innocence since capital punishment was restored following the U.S. Supreme Court's 1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia." The analysis showed, in part, that: 1. Of the 86 legally exonerated persons, eyewitness testimony played a role in the convictions of 46--53.5 percent. 2. Eyewitness testimony was the only evidence against 33 defendants--38.4 percent. 3. Only one eyewitness testified in 32 of the 46 defendants' cases--69.6 percent--and multiple eyewitnesses testified in the other 14--30.4 percent. 4. Witnesses who presented themselves as combination accomplice-eyewitnesses testified against 15 of the defendants--32.6 percent of the 46--and all of these witnesses had incentives to testify, ranging from full immunity to leniency in sentencing. 5. In five cases--each involving a single, non-accomplice eyewitness--the witness received consideration from the prosecution in a pending case. (The full study information and individual case analyses can be found at www.law.nwu.edu/wrongfulconvictions/eyewitnessstudy.htm.)

The DNA evidence testing is important to Wilson's case. Should the hairs match one or both of the two suspects in the stolen truck, and the necklace be linked to Brenda Morgan, the accounting of the events of the crime by the state's primary eyewitness will most certainly warrant serious re-examination. There is much more to Wilson's case than was presented in the article.

Donna J. Strong
Corpus Christi

Editor's note: Ms. Strong says the article was erroneous because she is not "working on Kelly's case." In fact, she told Dallas Observer staff writer Charles Siderius that she was working on Kelly's case but to a much lesser extent than Wilson's and that it is impossible to separate the two cases, something that is stated in the article. Strong has been in regular contact with Kelly, with his attorney and with potential witnesses that could help him get off Death Row. In the same e-mail she cites in her letter to the Observer, Strong also says, "...The University of Houston Innocence Network has accepted Alvin Kelly's case, and they are looking into Wilson's as well since they are essentially one and the same." In an August 8 e-mail to the Observer, she says in part, "Got a letter from Alvin yesterday and he sent this 'Important Points' thing along, which has good info in it...I really need to find Wallard." Johnny Wallard is someone who Kelly claims would provide him with an alibi that would remove him from the murder scene.

Strong also says that the article was in error because it said she "visited Wilson, read about his case and became convinced of his innocence." Strong did tell Siderius that she investigated the case before she actually visited Wilson. The sentence was not meant to imply she visited him first, rather that the combination of her investigation and personal contact convinced her to do more work on his case.

Strong says, "I have interviewed those who feel Wilson is not guilty at length. But the reporter failed to interview Wilson's parents, the alibi witnesses..." Siderius interviewed Wilson and his defense attorney and read affidavits from alibi witnesses who testified during Wilson's trial. Strong does not mention that she has never even tried to talk to the prosecutors in the case or others who might believe Wilson is guilty. Her critics in the original article say she only gathered evidence that would prove innocence, ignoring anything else.

And finally, as for other "omissions," Strong spent more than a year on the case. Not everything she learned or deemed important could be included in a newspaper article, even one that exceeded 7,000 words.


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