James Lee Woodard, who served more than 27 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, walked out of a Dallas courtroom this morning a free man for the first time since 1981. He is the eighteenth man cleared by DNA testing in Dallas County, more than any other county in the nation. In the wake of his release today, Texas State Sen. Rodney Ellis officially announced that a landmark Summit on Wrongful Convictions will be held May 8 in Austin. The summit will bring lawmakers, lawyers, civic leaders and exonerees together to work on addressing and preventing wrongful convictions in Texas.
Read more about the summit here
Days after he was arrested on New Year’s Day in 1981, Woodard began writing letters proclaiming his innocence and seeking to prevent a wrongful conviction. He was charged with sexually assaulting and strangling a 21-year-old woman he was dating at the time. He was convicted mainly based on the testimony of two eyewitnesses, and his lawyers at the Innocence Project of Texas say prosecutors had evidence at trial of the possible involvement of other suspects, but withheld that evidence from Woodard’s defense.
"On the first day he was arrested, he told the world he was innocent … and nobody listened," Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas, said during Tuesday's hearing.
Read the full story here
. (Associated Press, 04/29/08)
Watch video of James Woodard's comments in the courtroom today
. (WFAA, 04/29/08)
To bring about Woodard’s release, his lawyers at the Innocence Project of Texas worked closely with the Dallas District Attorney’s Office and its Conviction Integrity Unit. Read more about the cooperation on the
Dallas Observer’s Unfair Park blog
Of the 18 people cleared by DNA testing in Dallas County to date, 14 have been fully exonerated by DNA testing. Fifteen of the 18 were convicted under former District Attorney Henry Wade. For an exoneration to be official, the defendant must receive a pardon from the governor or a writ of habeas corpus from the Court of Criminal Appeals (the state’s highest criminal court).
Read about the 14 Dallas DNA exonerations here
Two weeks ago, Innocence Project client
was released in Dallas after serving 23 years in prison for a rape and burglary that DNA now proves he didn’t commit. An editorial this week in the Texas Baptist Standard says McGowan’s case illustrates why Texas should support a moratorium on capital punishment and why the possibility of executing an innocent person should prompt Christians to support a moratorium worldwide.
Read the editorial here.