Charges dropped in Texas death row case
Michael Blair spent 14 years on Texas’ death row for a child murder he has always said he didn’t commit. At his trial in 1994, prosecutors presented several pieces of hair and fiber evidence against Blair; a state expert said that hairs from the crime scene matched Blair’s and hairs from Blair’s car could have belonged to the seven-year-old victim. DNA testing conducted since trial at Blair’s request have discredited the microscopic hair testimony and no link between Blair and the victim or crime scene has been discovered. The first tests to exclude Blair were finished in 2002. Additionally, DNA evidence indicates that another man, now deceased, may have committed this crime.
In light of the mounting evidence of Blair’s innocence, Collin County prosecutors joined with Blair’s defense team – which includes Innocence Project attorneys – in asking Judge Webb Biard to overturn his conviction. At a hearing on May 23, the judge granted the request, saying the conviction should be tossed. In June, Texas’ Court of Criminal Appeals agreed to vacate the conviction, and a Collin County judge ordered the charges dismissed on August 25, 2008, officially exonerating Blair from death row. Blair will not be released from prison, however, because he was later convicted of three additional sex assault cases, for which he was sentenced to three terms of life in prison.
Less than a year after Blair was sentenced to death, then-Governor George W. Bush signed “Ashley’s Laws,” named after the victim in the case, expanding punishment and registration for sex offenders. Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck said Blair’s wrongful conviction and the law based on the case illustrates serious flaws in our criminal justice system:
“Troubling questions about our criminal justice system are raised any time DNA testing shows that someone on death row is innocent. But in this case, the community rushed to judgment because Michael Blair had a record as a sex offender — while the apparent real perpetrator, who had no record, evaded justice. More than just an irony, this should give everyone pause about legislating or reaching court decisions based on community fear and outrage.
“This case starkly shows that the system makes mistakes, and that those mistakes can have chilling consequences. Michael Blair was almost executed for a crime that DNA testing shows he did not commit. Even more troubling is the reality that the kind of evidence that led to Michael Blair’s wrongful conviction is used in countless cases nationwide every day. Eyewitness misidentification and unreliable forensic science convicted Michael Blair, but DNA has finally shown the truth.”
Media coverage of Blair’s conviction being overturned:
Dallas Morning News:
Collin County district attorney says evidence doesn't link Blair to '93 killing of Ashley Estell
Dallas Morning News Editorial:
Michael Blair case unravels
DA says conviction in ‘Ashley’s Laws’ case can’t stand
Video: WFAA –
New DNA evidence clears man in murder case
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