News 10.19.07

Dispatch from Dallas: The waiting continues for Clay Chabot


By: Vanessa Potkin, Innocence Project Staff Attorney

Yesterday I sat in a Dallas jail visiting room with Clay Chabot, discussing with him the likelihood that he would not be released after his hearing in a Dallas courtroom this morning. He has been waiting 21 years to prove his innocence, he said, and he would wait a little bit longer.

This morning a judge granted the joint request of the Innocence Project and the Dallas District Attorney’s office to throw out Clay’s conviction based on the new DNA evidence that Clay’s brother-in-law committed the crime. We had asked that Clay be released on bail to rejoin his family in Ohio, but that decision is pending until another hearing, which is set for next Friday.

After this morning’s hearing I spent time with Clay’s brother Mark and his longtime friend Anna, who have been waiting two decades for Clay to rejoin them at home. Clay’s two sisters and his 23-year-old son, who was an infant when he was arrested, are among the family members waiting for Clay in Ohio. Family and friends are the most important support system an exoneree can have, and when Clay is released he will be welcomed home by a wonderful group of people who have stood by him for a long time. We hope this day comes soon.

Dallas has had more wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing than any other country in the nation. When he is finally freed and his name cleared, Clay will join 13 other Dallas exonerees. This is a reprehensible record, but the future for criminal justice in Dallas looks promising. Prosecutors have committed to reviewing hundreds of cases in which there may be the possibility of biological evidence to prove innocence – or confirm guilt. In January, the Dallas Police Department will begin participating in a major study of eyewitness identification practices that could reduce the number of misidentifications (11 of the 13 DNA exonerations in Dallas County were caused, at least in part, by misidentifications).

While Clay’s case is currently receiving a thorough review, we are hopeful that prosecutors and judges will do the right thing and set him free. The main evidence against him at trial was the testimony of his brother-in-law Jerry Pabst, who is now implicated by a DNA match in the case. Pabst testified at Chabot’s trial that they were at the victim’s house together and that Chabot committed the crime. The DNA evidence now proves that Pabst lied on the stand to protect himself, and there is not a shred of evidence indicating that Chabot was with him. Chabot has said for 21 years that he was asleep with his wife and infant son on the night of the murder.

Clay Chabot and his family and friends will remain strong as they wait for a final decision in his case. But for his sake, let’s hope his family is reunited soon.

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