Free for two years, Richard Miles has nevertheless waited and waited for today -- the official acknowledgement that he did not commit the murder and attempted murder at a Texaco near Bachman Lake in 1994 for which he was sent to prison. The detailed 52-page opinion handed down from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reads like the outline of a Hitchcock film, detailing two police reports that weren't disclosed at the time of Miles's conviction, a 2010 recantation from the only uninvolved eyewitness and the determination that the small amount of gunshot residue on Miles' hand was inconclusive. All of which amounted to the decision that the wrong man spent 14 years behind bars.
"When we balance the newly available evidence ... with other exculpatory evidence and the evidence of guilt presented at trial, we are satisfied that Applicant has shown by clear and convincing evidence that no rational jury would convict him in light of the new evidence," reads the court's opinion released today.
The Dallas County District Attorney's office recommended Miles's release in 2009 after they determined that flaws in his trial violated his constitutional rights. Since his release more than two years ago, he's been working, piecing his life back together and finding support in other exonerees as he waited for a decision from the state court, which must rule on all exoneration cases. But finally, as of today Miles can file for state compensation for his years spent locked up.
"This is going to be great for him because now he can do some of the things he wanted to do" like help his mother, said Charles Chatman, an exoneree who was released in 2008. Chatman and the other exonerees, including Miles, meet monthly, and Chatman tells Unfair Park that he and the other guys have given Miles a helping had since his release.
"We have helped him," Chatman says, quickly adding that Miles isn't "the kind of person who just depends on nobody." Miles has been getting by working at a hotel, Chatman said, but even finding a job was difficult without a declaration of "actual innocence."
The state court's decision comes a year after The Dallas Morning News checked in with him as he continued to await the ruling. Miles was released after Centurion Ministries, a non-profit that explores wrongful convictions, found previously withheld evidence that linked another man to the 1994 murder and compiled evidence in favor of Miles's innocence.
In a December feature, the Observer explored the complexity of exoneration cases where there is no DNA evidence to definitively prove guilt or innocence. Miles's case, a non-DNA exoneration, rested squarely on eyewitness testimony, and when the case was explored years later, it was discovered that two police reports were never turned over to the defense, as is required of the prosecution.
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Marcus Thurman initially identified Miles as the shooter, but in a 2010 affidavit he admitted that he was somewhat uncertain -- and that the prosecutor ignored his uncertainty and directed him to identify Miles by showing where he would be seated in the courtroom, according to the appeals court opinion released today.
Multiple Freedom of Information requests to the Dallas Police Department by Miles's father and Centurion Ministries resulted in the two reports. The first was of an anonymous caller familiar with the crime who gave police a tip that her ex-boyfriend was the shooter. The second report included information about at altercation between the victims and someone else five days before the shooting.
A 2009 release from the Watkins's office said that "because the prosecutor is charged with the duty to learn of any favorable evidence known to others acting on the government's behalf, such as the investigating law enforcement agency, and because there is at least a reasonable probability that had the evidence been timely disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceedings would have been different. Thus, the probability of a different outcome had the information been timely disclosed to the defense is sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome of the case."
And now, finally, after two years of freedom without state confirmation of innocence, Miles is not only a free man but a legally recognized innocent man.