Meet Hilliard Fields. On August 27, 1997, Fields, who was then in his mid-20s, told prosecutors he was guilty of sexually assaulting a minor. Fields was also facing an unrelated drug charge, and authorities told him: Look, just plead guilty to both offenses, and you'll get one sentence for two crimes. Five years total. After that, they told him, you'll be a free man.
But Fields, as it turns out, didn't sexually assault anyone. It so happens that Fields was friends with the mother of the alleged victim, a 15-year-old girl, according to state records. According to the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, the girl had a crush on Fields. But the girl became jealous when Fields came to the house with a girlfriend.
The girl wrote a letter to Fields expressing her jealousy. The girl's mother found the letter, which no one else ever saw -- not Fields, not police, not prosecutors. The girl's mother insisted the letter was explicit enough to suggest Fields and her daughter were engaged in a sexual relationship. But the girl, says Craig Watkins's office this evening, "has always maintained that nothing inappropriate ever happened between her and Mr. Fields."
He was charged with sexually assaulting a minor in February '97; six months later, he cut the deal with John Vance's office. Tomorrow, at 9 in the morning, he will officially be exonerated.
Details are scant, but Monday morning, in Judge Larry Mitchell's courtroom, there will be a writ hearing on actual innocence in Hilliard Fields's case. He served his five years and was released in April 2002. The 39-year-old's name can be found in the state's Public Sex Offender Registry. The registry says he's unemployed. The registry says he's a "moderate" threat to society.
Tomorrow, Anna will be in the courtroom to talk to Fields and Watkins, to find out what happens now and how it was that an innocent man was allowed to plead guilty for a crime he -- and the alleged victim -- said he never committed.
But tonight, in a statement just send by his office, this is what Craig Watkins has to say:
"Obviously anytime a minor accuses someone of sexual assault, it is an allegation that is taken very seriously as it should be. Unfortunately for Mr. Fields, sometimes there are circumstances where a person truly is innocent, but because of ill feelings between the accused and other adults involved, the false allegation is allowed to escalate to the point of prosecution and that's exactly what happened in this case. This just shines the light on the fact that DNA is not the only type of evidence that can prove a wrongful conviction."