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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dallas Will Open Files to TX Innocence Project

35jeffblackburnFrom NPR.com: Dallas' new district attorney, Craig Watkins, says he will open his files to the Texas Tech Law School's Innocence Project and work with the group to examine hundreds of cases over the past 30 years. The goal is to see whether DNA tests might reveal wrongful convictions.

The move reflects the magnitude of the change that has occurred in the Dallas DA's office over the last six weeks. Watkins was elected the first black district attorney in Texas.

"It's a whole different world in the Dallas criminal justice system," says defense attorney Gary Udashen. "It is a world where if a client of ours is innocent, we feel like there's openness in the District Attorney's office to hear what we have say, to look at what we have to show them, where we don't anticipate resistance every step of the way."

Udashen's firm alone has had seven Dallas clients who were convicted, sent to prison, exhausted their appeals and then ultimately — with the pro bono help of Udashen and his colleagues — were found to be innocent.

"In a state that is a national hotspot, Dallas is the hottest of the hotspots in state right now," says Jeff Blackburn, the Innocence Project's Texas director. "What'd happened in Dallas is that a lot of samples, unlike other any other parts of the state, were preserved, and they're still there."

In a twist of irony, Dallas has long outsourced its lab work. And instead of destroying evidence post-conviction like many law enforcement labs, the private labs preserved all the evidence. Blackburn says as a result, Dallas has a treasure trove of potentially exonerating DNA evidence.

"It would be safe to say that right now Dallas is on the edge of opening up in a very revealing way what the system in Texas is really all about," Blackburn says. Listen. . . [Mark Godsey]

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