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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Dallas DA Pushes for Criminal Justice Changes

From star-telegram.com:  After seeking the release of two wrongfully convicted men in about two weeks, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said he will lobby in Austin for criminal justice changes, including establishment of conviction integrity units across the state.

Watkins talked about the need to double-check the veracity of the system after a court hearing Tuesday in which James Lee Woodard, 55, was set free after serving more than 27 years behind bars for a murder in 1980 that he did not commit.

"This is a perfect time to do it," Watkins said. "We have to look at it. We have to balance that time when we are being a politician, and when we are a human being."

If the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agrees to vacate Woodard's sentence, he would be the 17th inmate to be cleared in Dallas County by DNA evidence since 2001 and the longest-serving inmate in the country to be cleared by additional testing of evidence.

Watkins this month asked for a similar resolution for Thomas McGowan, 49, who served 23 years behind bars for a sexual assault and burglary he did not commit.

Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas, which investigated Woodard's case, said other reforms should include a public defender's office, punishment of prosecutors who break the rules and opening the courts to inmates pursuing innocence claims.

"We like to pretend the system in this state works," Blackburn said. "But we've got to stop lying to each other." Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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