The ever-expanding and always sharply dressed brotherhood of Dallas County exonerees once again lined the courtroom at the Frank Crowley Courts Building for an exoneration hearing this morning, this time in support of Richard Miles, who they already know quite well. After 14 years behind bars for a murder and attempted murder he did not commit, Miles has been free for more than two years, waiting for the state Court of Criminal Appeals to hand down its decision. Miles finally got his answer in a 52-page document supporting his innocence published last week. His relief was granted based on actual innocence, meaning he was a free man in every sense, including being eligible for state compensation for time served.
This morning's court hearing affirmed the Court of Criminal appeals decision that no reasonable jury, had they known in 1995 what the courts know now, could have found him guilty of the murder and attempted murder at a Texaco near Bachman Lake for which he spent all those years as an innocent man in prison.
Like the litany of exonerations before his, Miles's was a celebratory occasion, but not without acknowledgement of the years he lost. His father, instrumental in gathering evidence of his innocence, died just five months before Miles was released from prison. "There's no amount of compensation that can be given to any individual to compensate what was lost," Miles told a group of reporters before entering the courtroom for his final hearing.
Judge Andy Chatham told Miles, "You're a free man today. ... I'm not just the judge anymore. I'm proud to say, today I am your friend."
Chatham later told Unfair Park this was his first exoneration case. "Nothing prepares you to have to look somebody in the face and say the system made a mistake," Chatham said. Since Miles was released from prison over two years ago, he has met with the judge for court-ordered check-ins every few months.
"I just want to thank God for this day, for this opportunity," Miles said. As he looks ahead, his plans include starting a non-profit, Miles for Freedom, which will provide transitional housing to exonerees as they acclimate and restart their lives.
Miles said he plans to make a formal complaint against the prosecutor in his case for withholding evidence that supported his innocence.
"My life was taken for malicious acts by a prosecutor and I can't just let that go by," he said. At the time of his original trial, it was not revealed that police had received an anonymous tip that the murderer was someone else or that the only uninvolved eyewitness questioned whether Miles was truly the murderer.
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Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins used Miles's hearing as a jumping-off point, telling the crowded courtroom that in the face of all the exonerations, people must begin exploring and questioning the death penalty. Someone from Dallas County will be put to death next week, he said, and "I think the conversation needs to be broadened as it relates to our justice system," Watkins said. He revealed that he has a personal connection to the issue; his own great-grandfather had been put to death by the state of Texas.
Jim McCloskey, the founder of Centurion Ministries, a non-profit that investigates potential innocence cases, followed Watkins's speech by noting that the person who actually committed the murder for which Miles was convicted is still at large and that there is evidence indicating that person's identity.
There is no statute of limitations on murder, so the person who pulled the trigger that 1994 night at the Texaco station can still be tried and convicted, said Russell Wilson, who leads the Conviction Integrity Unit in the District Attorney's Office. While a conviction is possible, Wilson said, it's too early to say whether or not its likely.
Wilson noted that Miles's "is another case that's non-DNA," a point the Observer discussed with him at length for a December feature on the transition between DNA-based and non-DNA exonerations."I think that's the next frontier, if you will," Wilson said, adding that he's working on several other non-DNA cases and expects to see more exonerations in the near future.