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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Man cleared by DNA test seeks to clear record

DALLAS — The Innocence Project on Friday asked a Texas court to toss out the convictions that sent an innocent man to prison for 25 years and keeps him on probation today. DNA testing last year showed Steven Phillips was innocent of a 1982 sexual assault and burglary. In January, additional testing found that DNA evidence from the rape matched another man, Sidney Alvin Goodyear, who died in prison about a dozen years ago.

Phillips, who is on parole and lives in a halfway house as part of his probation, still has an extensive criminal record because he pleaded guilty to nine related sex crimes over fear that he would receive a life sentence if convicted, his lawyer said. Prosecutors now believe those sex crimes were also committed by Goodyear.

The Innocence Project said Friday there is a "wide range of clear evidence" showing that Phillips is innocent of all 11 crimes. Lawyers for the group, a New York-based legal center that tries to overturn wrongful convictions, argue that Goodyear committed all of the assaults and burglaries.

They also accuse Dallas police of improperly focusing on Phillips and ignoring evidence that pointed to Goodyear, originally a suspect before police targeted Phillips.

A hearing will likely be set by late July in state district court in Dallas in which two judges will decide whether Phillips' convictions should be vacated.

Innocence Project attorney Jason Kreag praised the Dallas County District Attorney's Office for its efforts to determine whether Phillips was guilty of the crimes that kept him in prison and now on parole.

"They have been remarkably cooperative and thorough in reinvestigating these crimes since we have identified Goodyear," Kreag said.

Mike Ware, who heads the Conviction Integrity Unit in the Dallas County DA's office, said his investigator has been challenged by the lack of DNA evidence in the other cases on Phillips' record.

"Obviously, it makes the task quite a bit more difficult," Ware said. "But it looks like there is certainly some corroboration on at least some of the cases, that even though there is no DNA, that Goodyear committed those offenses as well."

If a judge were to vacate Phillips' convictions, the effect would be more than just the symbolic clearing of his criminal record. Phillips remains on parole because of a 45-year sentence he received for pleading guilty to a sexual assault. That parole would end if his convictions are tossed. [ Mark Godsey]

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