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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

DNA cleared them, but they'll never feel free

Innocent_man Wiley Fountain is homeless just five years after he walked out of prison an innocent man. He is one of the 17 men wrongfully convicted in Dallas County, Texas, then cleared by DNA evidence. He was one of the lucky few to receive financial compensation from the state, but the $190,000 or so that made it into his pocket is long gone.

For awhile, Fountain wandered the streets of Dallas, looking for aluminum cans to trade in for cash. He earned the occasional meal by cleaning the parking lot of a restaurant. At night he had nowhere to go.

Now he's nowhere to be found. Just as the headlines of his release vanished from the front pages of the newspaper, Fountain, 51, has disappeared. And so have his hopes for a fresh start after spending 15 years in prison for an aggravated sexual assault he did not commit.

Clay Graham, a policy director with the Innocence Project of Texas, spends many days worrying about Fountain. In March, he received a phone call with the news that Fountain had been arrested on a theft charge and was sitting in the Dallas County jail. Graham rushed over to talk with him.

"He said being homeless ain't so bad," Graham recalled. "That's when I thought something horrible must have happened to him in prison."

A few weeks later, Fountain was released from jail and disappeared.

Fountain's story doesn't come as a shock to Jeff Blackburn, one of the lead attorneys with the Innocence Project of Texas, who represents many of the exonerated former convicts. [Mark Godsey]

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