When his girlfriend said she wanted to go to the Minyard's grocery store on Live Oak Street, Entre Karage looked up from the game of blackjack he was playing and nodded. The store was only a block away.
"But go right home after that," he told Nary Na. A pretty, petite Cambodian with long black hair and a sweet face, Nary was 14--10 years younger than Karage--and he felt she needed protection. It was September 1994, and she'd been living for a year in his family's home on Bennett Street in the "Little Asia" neighborhood of East Dallas. Though she'd often driven his car, Nary wasn't street-smart. Besides, Karage was the possessive type. He and Nary planned to get married in a few months.
Nary nodded and left, taking his Honda Accord. They'd arrived about noon at the Asian video store at the intersection of Carroll and Bryan streets, where other Cambodian refugees in the neighborhood hung out and sometimes gambled. Nary knew Karage had to be at work by 3 p.m. A high school graduate with training in auto mechanics, Karage had recently gotten a good job in a silicon wafer fabrication factory. That morning he'd gone with Nary to deposit his paycheck in the bank and had given her about $300 in cash. Like most teenage girls, Nary liked to shop. Karage liked being able to indulge her.
When Nary hadn't shown up by 2:30 p.m., Karage was upset. He called his boss to say he couldn't get to work that day. By 3 p.m., Karage was getting angry. He asked Pro Sok, the owner of the video store, to drive him around. Nary wasn't at home, she wasn't at the grocery and she wasn't with her mother. He couldn't imagine where she'd gone. Nary knew few people outside the tight-knit Cambodian community.
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They'd met at the Buddhist Temple in Grand Prairie in October 1993. At her mother's urging, Nary had moved in with Karage's extended family. She wasn't going to school; the family was in the process of getting documents from her school in California. Though Karage could have gotten slapped with a statutory rape charge, theirs wasn't an unusual arrangement in Cambodian culture. Their families were very traditional.
As he searched for Nary, Karage's anger turned to worry. He enlisted family and neighbors to scour the neighborhood and even drove around the parking lot at Town East Mall. But when Nary still hadn't returned home after the mall closed, Karage flagged down a police car in the neighborhood around 10 p.m. and told the officers his "cousin" was missing.
Dallas police homicide Detective Kenneth Beck showed up and took Karage to the police station. He confronted Karage with gruesome news: Nary Na's beaten and bloody body had been discovered about 6:30 p.m. behind the Casa Linda Shopping Center.
The teenager had been the victim of a vicious attack. The medical examiner would later testify that Nary had "multiple blunt force injuries," as if she'd been beaten with a hammer, and a wire coat hanger had been twisted tightly around her neck. Her skull was fractured and her liver lacerated so severely it split, as if she'd been kicked.
Karage was horrified. He denied having anything to do with Nary's death. After more than six hours of interrogation, Karage gave Beck a written statement insisting on his innocence.
The medical examiner's office would later discover a "head hair fragment exhibiting Negroid racial characteristics" on Nary's skin. The DNA on Nary's body did not match Karage. That only confirmed Beck's belief that Karage had found Nary with another man, killed her in a jealous rage and then staged the search to deflect suspicion.
In a non-jury trial in 1997 with testimony that lasted only one day, Karage maintained his innocence. But state District Judge Karen Greene agreed with prosecutor Tony D'Amore: Karage didn't have a solid alibi. People told conflicting stories about where he'd been that day. Nary's blood was found in the trunk of his car, which was discovered late that night parked at the Minyard's. Most important, Karage was the only person who had a motive to kill Nary. Greene convicted Karage and sentenced him to life in prison.
"It was such a violent death I thought life was the only possible sentence," Judge Greene says. Repeated appeals failed to win Karage a new trial.
But after Karage had spent nearly seven years in prison, he finally persuaded authorities to run the DNA found on Nary through the database of serious offenders created in 2001. They found that another man did have a motive: Keith Jordan, a black man who lived a few miles from Casa Linda. He'd been convicted in 1997 of the aggravated kidnapping and sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl in circumstances similar to the attack on Nary.
At the request of the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, the police department assigned a different detective to reinvestigate Nary's death. Karage was released from prison; in December, Governor Rick Perry gave him a full pardon. Jordan now faces charges of capital murder in Nary's slaying.
The revelation that Karage was innocent caused some soul-searching among those responsible for his prosecution. But not as much as you'd think.
"I had based my decision on evidence which was very compelling and beyond a reasonable doubt," Greene says. "I was proud of myself that I let them run the DNA again. He didn't really have the right to do that. But I thought, 'Why not?' Luckily the system did work."
The truth is the system didn't work. Every safeguard designed to keep an innocent man from being convicted of a heinous crime failed, even at the appellate level. "The procedural safeguards built into the system to protect an innocent man are pretty much ignored by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals," says John Hendrik, a former misdemeanor county court judge and Karage's defense attorney. "Very few convictions are reversed now compared to 20 years ago." He points out that nationwide about 140 felons have been cleared because of DNA tests. Of those, 39 were Texas inmates, or about 26 percent of the total.
Karage just got extremely lucky--lucky that the database had been created, lucky that Jordan had been caught and convicted of a serious sex crime, lucky that Hendrik felt obligated to continue to represent him for no charge, lucky that the judge agreed to the test after the DA's office had repeatedly opposed it. If one of those links had been missing, Karage would still be in prison for life.
An examination of the trial transcript, witness statements, police reports and appellate briefs reveals something even more shocking.
Except for an alleged motive, there was no evidence against Karage.
"I couldn't believe it," says Lawrence Mitchell, one of the top criminal appellate attorneys in Dallas, who represented Karage on appeal. "There's not a shred of evidence he committed the crime. I don't know how Karen Greene came to the conclusion he was guilty. It's bad judging all the way through. I think a first-year law student would have seen he wasn't guilty. I have never seen a case this egregious."
Hendrik agrees. "She didn't know the rules of evidence."
It didn't end with Greene. "You can add the Texas Court of Appeals to the list of those who had a chance to save Karage and failed," Mitchell says.
How did it happen? Karage, it seems, got caught in a "perfect storm" of bias, arcane legal rules and procedures, and downright incompetence.
Wonderful earthy smells come from the kitchen of the small house in Richardson where Entre Karage lives with his grandmother, mother, sisters, wife, various children and at any given time other members of their extended family. Sister Kim Houp stirs something on the stove. A tiny woman with short white hair squats in the Asian fashion on the floor, chopping meat on a butcher block.
Short and stocky, 34-year-old Karage has a shaved head and wide shoulders, which are more muscular than the days when he weighed 140 pounds.
Karage has few memories of Cambodia except sadness. His father disappeared and is presumed murdered by the Khmer Rouge. The remaining family fled their home, living in the jungle and then in a refugee camp in Thailand for several years. They came to America in June 1981 when he was 8. Born Savon Houp, he changed his name when he became an American citizen in 1994. Entre Nax Karage, his full name, means "giant eagle that lives in heaven" in Cambodian.
As a teenager Karage studied the wisdom of "my people," the ancients who often came to him in dreams to teach him lessons, he says. The most important such "shaman" was his late great-grandmother, who is portrayed in a tattoo on his calf as a powerful female warrior. The ancients, Karage says, got him through his time in prison. He has tattoos of ancient gods and goddesses on his back, arms and chest.
Before coming to Dallas, Nary had lived with her family in California. A snapshot shows a dark-eyed girl wearing an ankle-length flowered dress and a shy smile. Sometimes called Linda, Nary stood 5-foot-2 and weighed 104 pounds. Like lots of teenage girls, she liked jewelry and adorned herself with gold rings, bracelets, necklaces and earrings. Karage often gave her money. But there were signs Nary was unhappy with the relationship. At one point Nary went back to her mother's house, also in the neighborhood. But Karage begged her to return, and she did.
In a statement to police, Karage told his version of what happened that day. He and Nary had left home at 11 a.m. to deposit money in the bank and then went to the video store. Karage gambled with Pro Sok, a co-worker named Kelea and several other young men. Saying she wanted to go to the nearby Minyard's, Nary left and took the car.
"I told her to go home and pick me up later," Karage said. Home was about four or five blocks away. But when Nary hadn't returned, Karage left a message for his boss saying he wouldn't make it to work. Pro Sok drove him around to look for Nary and took Karage home after 30 minutes. He watched TV from about 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., waiting for her to return or call. His aunt drove him around from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. looking for Nary. About 6:15 p.m., Karage said, he left the house and walked around the neighborhood.
At a park near the Annex apartments, at the intersection of Annex and Virginia streets, Karage saw Sophi Di and her husband, both Cambodians, and asked if they had seen Nary. They said no, but Sophi agreed to look for her. "At 6:30 p.m., I saw my mom drive up, and she asked me if I wanted a ride home," Karage said. "I told her no and she left."
Sophi returned without finding Nary and drove Karage around the neighborhood again. They drove to the home of Nary's friend Danil; she hadn't seen Nary.
Sophi took him home about 7:30 p.m. Thinking Nary might have gone shopping and would return when stores closed, Karage waited there until 10:30 p.m. Then he borrowed his mother's car, picked up a male friend named Lie and they drove to Town East Mall. No luck. Driving back through the neighborhood, Karage saw a police car.
"I waved them over and told them I couldn't find my cousin, and I wanted to make a report. I love my cousin very much, and we were going to get married in January. I didn't see Linda [Nary] take my car, and I don't know what happened to her."
Times would later become a big issue in the trial: Where did Karage go and when?
Karage didn't know that Nary's body had been found between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Taken in about 11 p.m. for questioning by Beck, Karage kept repeating over and over that he loved his cousin, he didn't understand why his wife didn't want to be with him, why she would run off.
Cousin, wife, girlfriend, Nary, Linda? It was confusing. But Beck knew something wasn't right about a 24-year-old man being "married" to a 14-year-old girl. He got in Karage's face, urging him to confess.
"They held me there all night," Karage says. He denied having anything to do with her death and cooperated in every way. He consented to a search of his Honda, turned over the clothes he'd been wearing that day, gave a DNA sample and submitted to a CAT scan to show if he had bruises or other injuries to his body. He even asked for a polygraph test.
Beck talked to various members of the family, often with the help of an Asian police officer, Paul Thai, who listened to their statements and wrote them down in English. Beck learned from Sophi and Danil that Nary had talked about leaving Karage, which made Karage mad. Sophi said he threatened to cut her up and feed her to a dog if she left him. Another time Karage had slapped Nary's face in a jealous snit. He particularly was concerned about Nary liking Pro Sok, the owner of the video store.
Karage became Beck's only suspect. (The DPD declined to provide Beck for an interview.) That never changed.
Beck revisited Karage's home and talked to witnesses over and over. Karage says Beck told him, "I'm not going to look nowhere else. I know you did it. I'm going to put it together piece by piece, and I'm going to come and get you." The young Cambodian knew nothing about the American legal system but assumed everything would work out. After all, he was innocent until proven guilty.
"Your honor, I object," said John Hendrik, pulling himself from the defense counsel's chair again. "It's not relevant, it's just not relevant."
It was November 13, 1997, more than three years after the death of Nary Na. Karage had thought the investigation was over until he got a notice in the mail saying a grand jury was hearing testimony accusing him of Nary's murder. "I didn't really know what it meant," Karage says. He went to the grand jury room at the Frank Crowley Courthouse without a lawyer to find out what was going on. Instead he was handcuffed and taken to the police station, where Beck continued to ask him questions. From there, Karage went to jail. He finally got an attorney, William Chu.
In the middle of Karage's trial, prosecutor Tom D'Amore questioned Beck about his investigation into Nary's slaying. The detective was talking about what people told him, about a receipt that had been destroyed, about what an unnamed witness said. None of that evidence was admissible under court rules, but Judge Karen Greene allowed it.
Greene knew Hendrik well, but now their roles were flip-flopped. As a new prosecutor, Greene had argued misdemeanor cases before Hendrik, who served as a misdemeanor county criminal judge from 1980 to 1994.
A pretty woman with long, dark curly hair, Greene had taken an atypical path to the bench. Before she went to law school, Greene had worked as a flight attendant for American Airlines. She paid her dues as a prosecutor in the Dallas DA's office then took a big jump: serving in Governor George Bush's criminal justice division. Appointed to the bench by Bush to fill a vacancy, Greene ran for election to the 282nd District Court with the help of an old boyfriend--comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who did a fund-raiser for her.
When the Karage case came before her, Greene had been a felony judge for about 11 months. Hendrik had been brought in to argue the Karage case by Chu, an attorney who represents many in the Asian community. Houy Houp, Karage's mother, worked several jobs to scrape together enough money to hire a lawyer.
On Hendrik's advice, Karage opted for a non-jury trial. "I thought the case was very weak," Hendrik says. Karage had not confessed. Investigators found no murder weapon or any evidence putting him at the crime scene. Though Karage didn't have a solid alibi, most of his time that afternoon was accounted for, leaving a very small window in which he could have killed Nary.
"The biggest problem Entre had is that a high percentage of murders are committed by friends and acquaintances," Hendrik says. "When a female dies they look at the boyfriend and husband. The rule of thumb is if you are innocent, you're better off going before the judge. If you are guilty, you are better off with a jury." Since Hendrik believed Karage was innocent, he wanted Judge Greene to decide his client's fate.
Trial testimony began with an appearance by Nary's stepfather, Sam Ran. Translator Thai was on hand if needed. All of the non-police witnesses were Cambodian.
In broken English, Ran testified that he'd seen Nary and Karage fight one time in his apartment. "Entre was jealous," Ran said. "My wife break them up."
Prosecutor D'Amore asked Ran when Karage called him that day.
"Do you remember being called [by Karage] the first time around 5 p.m.?"
"No," Ran said, "around 3."
"When he called the first time, what did he say?"
"He looking for Nary."
"Let me ask you, was that around 5?"
This time Ran agreed it was 5. These types of time conflicts, in fact, were a continual theme in the brief trial.
The next witness was DPD Officer Debra Cruz, who testified that she was called around 6:30 p.m., right around dusk, to the shopping center. Two boys playing in the creek behind what was then a Pier 1 store had found a body about 20 feet down the overgrown creek bank. They notified security guards, who called 911. Someone had parked behind the store and thrown the body down the slope. Cruz also testified that it would have taken 15 to 20 minutes for someone to drive from the Minyard's on Live Oak to Pier 1, depending on traffic, then about the same length of time for someone to drive the car back to the Minyard's, where the car had been found later that night.
Next, Sophi Di was asked if Karage was jealous about Nary being with other men. "No," she said. "He was just, like, protective of her."
"You also told police you were aware of violence between them," D'Amore said. "That he used to hurt her, beat her up. Do you remember that?"
"I think she told me one time that they got into an argument, and I think they were fighting," Di said. D'Amore, not getting the answers he was looking for, led her around, essentially testifying for her.
"You remember that you told the police that she had a black eye and swollen lip. And you met [Karage] sometime before this happened. And after it happened, [Karage] was always coming over trying to get you to help him get Linda back. Do you remember that?"
Now Di remembered. "Yeah," she said.
D'Amore went off on another tangent, asking if Di remembered Karage had threatened to kill Pro Sok if he didn't leave Nary alone, that he would "kill her and nobody would find out because he would cut her up and feed her to the dogs...Do you remember that?"
D'Amore referred to her police statement but was unable to get Di to say much that was incriminating. And she frequently contradicted her statement, such as not remembering that she'd driven Karage home. (A police officer had written her statement in English; Di had signed it, perhaps without understanding all it said.)
Though the prosecutor repeatedly said there was "violence" between Nary and Karage, that's not what was portrayed by the witnesses. Karage's mother testified "they not actual fighting, he just slap her one time." There was no evidence Nary had been beaten or sought medical treatment for injuries inflicted by Karage.
Hendrik wanted to establish Karage's whereabouts that day. Initially Di had said that she saw Karage around 7:15 p.m. Now Hendrik pinned Di down to seeing Karage in the park sometime between 5:30 p.m. and dusk, which occurred around 6:30 p.m.
Accounting for Karage's time between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. was important because one witness testified that he'd seen Nary alive at the Minyard's at 5:30 p.m. buying snacks and drinks. She said she was going to a party in Garland.
Officers were also inconsistent with time. One testified that the body was found about "dusk," (about 6:30 p.m.), another said 6:50 p.m. If Cruz was called at 6:30 p.m., that left only a small window of time that Karage could have found Nary cheating, killed her, got her into his car, driven about six miles to Casa Linda, dumped her body behind the Pier 1--while it was still daylight--and driven back to the Minyard's. Garland Road at Buckner Boulevard is one of the busiest intersections in East Dallas at that time of day. Karage would have taken at least 20 minutes to drive there and back.
The photos of Nary's body were horrifying, as was the autopsy report. No alcohol or drugs were found in Nary's body, but someone had had sexual intercourse with her. The medical examiner testified that there were no obvious injuries or tears to her vagina, not uncommon in cases of rape. Early on, the police knew that the semen found in her body didn't match Karage or his friend Pro Sok. But the prosecution wasn't alleging either man had sex with her, just that Karage killed her in retaliation for having been with someone else.
No one had seen Karage with blood on his body or clothes. Karage's baseball cap, socks, boots, sweater, pants and jacket had no visible blood stains. But a technician did a "presumptive" blood test on each of the items using a chemical that detects minute quantities of blood. It was positive.
"We can't say for certainty it is blood," the technician testified. It could be rust or vegetable-type products.
In fact the test proved nothing. The technician agreed with Hendrik's characterization of the presumptive blood test as "a dubious practice frowned on by the serological community."
A small amount of Nary's blood was found on the carpet in the trunk of Karage's car. Her purse was under the front passenger seat, still containing $263. There were three bags of groceries from Minyard's. Police found no comparable fingerprints, even of the victim.
It appeared as if someone had put Nary in the trunk of Karage's car, driven the car to Casa Linda, wiped it down and brought it back to the Minyard's, perhaps because that's where the killer had left his own car.
Detective Beck was the most damaging witness--in part because of Judge Greene, who let him testify about inadmissible evidence.
Beck seized upon details such as Karage saying he'd left a message on his boss' answering machine; Beck said the boss told him Karage talked to him. That a Cambodian co-worker named Kelea contradicted Karage by saying he didn't drive him around to look for Nary. (Karage said Pro Sok drove him around, not Kelea.) That Karage kept repeating he loved Nary and didn't understand why she didn't want to be with him. And that Karage was so much older than Nary.
"Let me ask you to tell the judge factors that you considered in filing the case," D'Amore said.
"It's irrelevant," Hendrik objected. "It doesn't matter why he filed the case. He can only speak about facts, and that's purely an opinion on his part."
Rosette Pech, a friend of Nary's, testified that Nary drove Karage's car "all the time" and that she hung out only with Cambodians. Karage's sister Kim Long also said that Nary knew no blacks. This was significant, because of the "Negroid" hair found on her body.
In his closing argument, Hendrik argued that Nary was the victim of a stranger. "She was abducted. She was raped. She was murdered," Hendrik said. "There's just no evidence to connect the defendant to her death."
But prosecutor D'Amore called Karage's search for Nary "a charade" and scoffed at the idea a stranger grabbed her. "When you look at all the evidence in this case, it all comes down to really one person having a motive to want to kill that young girl..."
The next day, November 14, 1994, Judge Greene returned to the bench and pronounced her verdict: Karage was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The punishment? Life in prison. The verdict staggered Hendrik.
To realize that Greene sentenced a young man to live out his days in prison based on such flimsy evidence raises questions of giving such inexperienced judges so much power. With a pound of her gavel, Greene sent Karage into a hall of mirrors that was almost impossible to escape.
All Beck and D'Amore had to do to find someone else with a motive to kill Nary was walk down the hall. On the same day that Karage was pronounced guilty by Greene, a jury in the courtroom of Judge Lana McDaniel convicted a black man named Keith Jordan of aggravated sexual assault and aggravated kidnapping.
The victim? A 14-year-old girl he'd picked up not far from the Casa Linda Shopping Center.
When the man pulled up to the East Dallas convenience store at Ferguson Road and Oates Drive in a green Lexus, 14-year-old Amanda had just hung up the pay phone. Amanda, an eighth-grader, had come home from school to an empty house. Her mother worked from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., so she spent the afternoon on her own, then went to visit a friend. At 9:30 p.m., she walked to the store to use the pay phone. The telephone at her friend's house had been turned off, and Amanda needed a ride home. (Amanda is not her real name.)
The driver, a black man, gestured to her and explained he was a police officer. She was violating curfew, and he would have to take her home and write her mother a ticket.
But the man didn't follow Amanda's directions to her house. She began to scream and cry. The man reassured her, saying he was taking her to the Mesquite Police Department instead. But he passed the freeway exit for the police department and kept driving. When Amanda started screaming and crying again, the man pulled off the road under a bridge, forced her into the trunk of his car and started driving again.
To Amanda, it seemed they drove a long time. He finally let the girl out on a dirt road in a wooded area, where there was a burned-out house and shack and two abandoned cars. He dragged her to a spot near some trees and forced her to have sexual intercourse. Amanda later testified that he threatened numerous times to kill her. He later pulled Amanda into the burned-out house and forced her to have intercourse again and performed oral sex on her. Before they left, he forced Amanda to have sex a third time in the front seat of his car.
As he drove back to her neighborhood, the man forced Amanda's head down so she wouldn't know where they'd been. He pushed her out of the car at her friend's house at about 6 a.m.
Scratched and bruised on her neck, arm and legs, Amanda went to the hospital where a doctor concluded that she had been assaulted. The results of her pelvic exam were normal, but that wasn't unusual. Amanda filed a sexual assault report, and police took pictures of her injuries.
About a month later, Amanda again saw the man at the convenience store and called police. A detective got a tag number on a green Lexus from the store's security videotape and traced it to Keith Jordan, a 35-year-old cable installer who lived about a mile and a half from the Casa Linda Shopping Center. His wife told police they often went to that convenience store to buy gas and purchase lottery tickets. The wife also said they owned property in Forney where they kept a horse. Police found the property out in the country with a burned-out house and shack and two derelict cars.
Jordan claimed that he thought Amanda was 18 and that she wanted money for sex. When he gave her just $20, Amanda got angry and began kicking his car. He put her in the trunk, yes, but only until she calmed down.
The jury believed Amanda. Jordan was convicted and sentenced to 30 years for aggravated sexual assault of a child and 20 years for aggravated kidnapping.
Both Jordan and Karage "pulled chain"--got on the bus to prison--about the same time. Karage remembers shuffling in a driving rain, chained to 30 other men, guards dressed like cowboys in long black coats, the black prisoners singing sad songs. He could have been sitting next to Keith Jordan.
The night before he went to trial, Karage had a disturbing dream. He saw fire outside, like the sun was falling from the sky, so real that Karage jumped out of bed and went to the window. He took the vision as an omen.
As the bailiff took him to jail after his brief trial, Karage wondered if the sun god was protecting him, sending him to prison to keep him safe. Later he decided it was punishment.
"After I was locked up for a while," Karage says, "I thought maybe I was paying the consequences of my sin in a past life, or the sins of my mother or father."
When he first got to the Coffield Unit, Karage refused to back down from fights. Pretty soon people left him alone. Visits from his mother and family--and the hope that appellate judges would see he was innocent--kept him going.
His mother hired attorney James Newth for the first appeal. He argued there was insufficient legal or factual evidence to convict Karage. Assigned to the Fourth Court of Criminal Appeals in San Antonio, that appeal was rejected on July 7, 1999.
"It's very difficult to get a case reversed on appeal on a factual insufficiency or legal insufficiency argument," Lawrence Mitchell says. "If a jury rationally could believe the testimony, the court doesn't find on those grounds." The evidence is to be viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, Mitchell explains. The attitude is that the juries and judges are better able to determine the credibility of the witnesses.
The opinion, written by Justice Shirley W. Butts, contained this astonishing conclusion: "The state relied on circumstantial evidence to prove that appellant murdered [Nary] Na. To this end, it was shown that appellant had the motive and opportunity to murder the victim. No evidence was presented that any other person had any motive to kill the deceased."
The problem with that statement: The accused is not required to prove that other people had motives. "It's not my job to investigate the case," Karage says. "That's what the police do."
After Newth failed, Karage's mother turned to Mitchell, who, on June 19, 2000, filed an "11.07" writ of habeas corpus in Greene's court. Unlike an appeal, a writ allows the inmate to present evidence outside of the trial record, but it is also more limited to raising issues of a jurisdictional, constitutional or fundamental nature, such as ineffective counsel. If approved, the Court of Criminal Appeals could award the defendant a new trial or a new punishment hearing.
Mitchell argued that Karage "is actually innocent," and his incarceration violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing due process. Mitchell demolished all the state's arguments, laying out for Greene what she didn't see at trial.
He argued that the only thing that placed Karage in the presence of the victim after she was last seen alive was the "unobjected hearsay evidence" of Beck, who testified an "unidentified individual" saw them together leaving the video store between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. on the day of her death.
"Applicant did not confess. There was no eyewitness testimony to the offense. There was no evidence of flight which...can be considered by the fact finder as an indication of guilt. Quite to the contrary, it was applicant who first alerted the police to the possibility that harm may have come to the victim. There was no physical evidence, such as a murder weapon or fingerprints, which connected the applicant to this homicide...The state failed to present any scientific evidence which even remotely established that applicant was the perpetrator of this crime...
"The evidence in this cause was found to be sufficient because applicant had motive and 'opportunity' to kill the deceased and because there was no evidence that any other individual had a motive to kill her..."
But mere motive is not sufficient to prove guilt. Mitchell contended that if Karage's failure to prove another person had a motive to kill the victim was being used by the Court of Criminal Appeals as evidence of his guilt, "then the court is improperly requiring the applicant to prove his innocence."
Mitchell thought it was a "clean win."
But Greene entered her written "findings of facts and conclusions of law" with the Court of Criminal Appeals: "Applicant has not...presented this Court with any new facts or citations of authority which would require a reconsideration of this case," Greene wrote. "This Court concurs with and is bound by the prior opinion of the Court of Appeals with regard to the issue of Applicant's innocence." She found he was lawfully confined.
Newth had filed an affidavit saying he'd neglected to inform Karage about his appeal being denied in a timely fashion so Greene did agree that Karage could file an "out-of-time" Petition for Discretionary Review.
So Mitchell filed a PDR with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin on February 7, 2001. It was denied. Over and over, Karage ran up against a system of intricate legal rules and the conservative Texas appellate courts.
In a last-ditch effort to get Karage a new trial, on June 18, 2001, Mitchell filed a federal writ of habeas corpus with the U.S. District Court of the Northern District.
Again the court put the onus on Karage.
"Since there is no conclusive evidence that Karage could not have committed the murder, it remained within the province of the trial court to weigh the evidence and resolve the conflicts in the testimony," said U.S. Magistrate William Sanderson in denying the writ.
"I was shocked I lost," Mitchell said. "I felt so bad for that guy." There was nothing more Mitchell could do.
Karage had come to the end of the appellate road.
Karage spent his seven years in prison trying to avoid gangs and learning about the law. In the prison library, an inmate who'd once been an attorney told Karage about a new law, effective on April 5, 2001, providing for post-conviction DNA testing. The inmate helped Karage write a motion to get samples from the vaginal and anal swabs and any material under Nary's fingernails tested for DNA to prove it didn't originate from him.
The DA's office opposed the test, and since the prosecution had not argued that the semen was Karage's, the motion was pointless. But his "pro se" filing prompted a judge to appoint a Dallas defense attorney to represent him.
A prison paralegal named Jon Michael Withrow intervened, writing to the lawyer in August 2002 that he'd tried in vain to dissuade Karage from filing the motion in the first place. He worried that it would antagonize the only people in a position to help Karage.
"Mr. Karage is Cambodian and he is not capable of preparing any type of legal document nor does he seem to understand our legal system," Withrow wrote. "I seriously doubt that he could even write you a simple letter that would make sense...He just does not understand the role DNA played in his conviction."
But Withrow had another suggestion: Drop the DNA request on the swabs and ask the court to order a cross-match comparison test of the semen sample with the new DNA data bank.
"My thinking is that if we can identify the semen donor, then we will know who the actual killer is, or at least ask him if he had consensual sex with Nary," Withrow wrote. "And if he is a convicted felon and he has a history of sexual assault, such evidence will strongly refute the state's theory that Nary was not raped...Make sure the court knows that the police have never attempted to learn the identity of the semen donor.
"In closing, I would just like to say that I am convinced of Mr. Karage's innocence and that is a rare happening in this place."
The pro bono lawyer filed Karage's motion to test Nary's fingernail clippings for DNA, but Judge Greene sided with the DA, who said it would be a waste of money and denied Karage's request.
At age 30, Karage faced spending the rest of his life in prison.
When John Hendrik got the letter from Entre Karage pleading for help, it was five years after the "worst day in my life as an attorney in 35 years." Karage's conviction had weighed on Hendrik's mind so much that when Karage asked for help, the attorney agreed to do what he could at no charge.
Hendrik says it was "a shot in the dark," but he went to Judge Greene in person instead of filing a motion presenting Withrow's proposal. "I asked the judge, 'If the DNA showed it belonged to a violent criminal, would that change your mind?'"
Greene said yes.
On August 12, 2003, a supervisor in the Texas Department of Public Safety Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) found a match: Keith Jordan, imprisoned at the Eastham unit. The match was confirmed using new samples and testing techniques.
Detective Steve L'Huillier was assigned to reinvestigate the case, and he had a hard time finding witnesses after seven years. But on September 15, 2005, he filed a capital murder charge against Jordan, who is now awaiting trial.
When Karage got the word he was being bench-warranted back to Dallas, he gave away all of his possessions to other inmates. "They said, 'It's a bench warrant, you'll be back,'" Karage says. "I said, 'I'm not coming back.'"
Karage was released on bond; the case against him was dropped by agreement of the DA and the Court of Appeals. Last December, Governor Perry granted Karage a pardon, and his record has been expunged.
Beck has been promoted to sergeant in the robbery division. Greene is running for re-election and has been endorsed by The Dallas Morning News. Karage says neither she nor anyone else involved in his prosecution has apologized.
"I'd have some mean words for Detective Beck," Karage says bitterly.
Trying to find a job has been hard. "How do you explain what you've been doing for seven years?" Karage says. He's thinking about starting a Cambodian restaurant with the compensation he's received from the state: $25,000 for each year, paid out over time, as long as he stays out of trouble.
During his ordeal, Karage never testified. But after she sentenced Karage to life in prison, Judge Greene had asked if he wanted to say anything to the court.
"Your honor," Karage said. He stood before the court, tears in his eyes. "Why do you want to take an innocent life away from my family and everything, you know? I swear you on any living soul or anything that if I ever hurt anybody in this whole generation...I never hurt anybody in this whole life. Why do you want to take an innocent man and a family away? Why you want to do this to me? I didn't do anything."
"All right," the judge said and ordered Karage released to the custody of the sheriff. Though a judge for only 11 months, Greene had heard it all before. And like every judge, she's heard it many times since.