This week, Texas news outlets have presented differing perspectives on why Dallas County has exonerated so many more people through DNA testing than neighboring Tarrant County. Texas leads the nation in DNA exonerations, and many of the innocent prisoners that have been vindicated were wrongfully convicted in Dallas County. The
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
editorial published this weekend concludes that Tarrant County has not exonerated nearly as many innocent prisoners as Dallas County simply because it did not wrongfully incarcerate them in the first place. This black-and-white view is too simple for what’s become a thorny issue across the state.
blog post explains that the reason for the discrepancy of DNA exonerations between Dallas County and the rest of the state is that Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins has been committed to freeing the innocent. Mike Ware, a Fort Worth criminal defense attorney who led the Conviction Integrity Unit in the Dallas County District Attorney’s office until last year, attributes Dallas County’s exonerations to its aggressive stance on ordering DNA testing in cases deemed inconclusive. Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas agrees. According to the
It’s “simply not the culture” elsewhere, he says. And because of that, lawyers are more prone to take on innocence cases in Dallas. Such cases take a tremendous amount of time and money, and that currency goes a lot farther here, where hurdles to testing are far less challenging than elsewhere in Texas.
Blackburn doesn’t see Tarrant County as being any better or worse in terms of wrongful convictions than most other District Attorney’s offices around the state. Dallas is simply an outlier in that the evidence was preserved and Watkins has made it a major priority to free the innocent.