25 Years After Wrongful Conviction, Steven Phillips Set To Be Exonerated in Dallas Based on DNA and Other Evidence
Hearing Tuesday to vacate 11 convictions based on evidence that a serial sex criminal committed all of the crimes for which Phillips was wrongfully convicted
(DALLAS, TX; August 4, 2008) – DNA tests and an extensive investigation show that Steven Phillips did not commit a string of sex crimes for which he was wrongfully convicted 25 years ago in Dallas County. A hearing is set for tomorrow (Tuesday, August 5), where a judge will recommend whether to vacate all of the convictions and send the case to the Court of Criminal Appeals, which would formally exonerate Phillips in all of the cases.
Based on extensive investigation, the Innocence Project and the Dallas County District Attorney’s office agree that all of the crimes were committed by Sidney Alvin Goodyear, a serial sex criminal with a record of similar crimes in several states. Goodyear was an initial suspect in the cases for which Phillips was wrongfully convicted – but police ignored and even concealed evidence that implicated Goodyear, focusing instead on Phillips.
"This is one of the worst cases of tunnel vision we’ve ever seen. Police seized on Steven Phillips as a suspect and refused to see mounting evidence that someone else actually committed these crimes," said Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck. The Innocence Project, a national organization affiliated with Cardozo School of Law, represents Phillips. "Sidney Goodyear was a one-man crime spree who could have been stopped much sooner if police had followed the evidence instead of locking onto an innocent man." After the Dallas crimes for which Phillips was wrongfully convicted, Goodyear committed at least 16 other sexual assaults and related offenses in multiple states.
In 1982 and 1983, Phillips was convicted of rape and burglary in two trials stemming from the same incident. He was charged with nine other identical crimes that all took place in the spring of 1982 in the Dallas area. The crimes involved a hooded perpetrator who forced women (sometimes large groups of women) to strip and perform sexual acts at gunpoint. At his trials in 1982 and 1983, Phillips argued that eyewitnesses misidentified him, and he presented an alibi from his former wife. Juries convicted him anyway, and he received two 30-year sentences in prison for those cases. In 1984, he pled guilty to the nine other crimes to avoid what would amount to a life sentence in prison. Starting in 2001, Phillips sought DNA testing (in the case for which he was convicted by juries – which is the only case that involved DNA evidence) but the former Dallas County District Attorney refused, and the case was in litigation for several years. Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins’ office agreed to DNA testing in 2007, and the results proved Phillips’ innocence. Research by the Innocence Project uncovered the fact that Goodyear had been convicted of several similar crimes. DNA testing subsequently showed that Goodyear committed the rape/burglary for which Phillips was wrongfully convicted, and a thorough investigation by the DA’s office shows that Goodyear committed the nine other crimes, as well. “The Dallas County District Attorney looked at this case carefully and closely. The previous DA continued the tunnel vision that wrongfully convicted Steven Phillips in the first place, but Craig Watkins’ office focused on justice and finding the truth,” Scheck said.
In the course of the investigation over the last year, new information was uncovered showing that police ignored and even concealed evidence of Phillips’ innocence. Dallas police were investigating the spring 1982 crime spree at the same time police in Kansas City were investigating a spree of identical crimes. Police in Kansas City were correctly focused on Goodyear and sent his photo to Dallas police, who showed it to a victim in one of the crimes. The victim identified Goodyear as the perpetrator – but police ignored this because they were focused on Phillips, and Phillips’ attorneys were not told that a victim had identified another suspect. The evidence that Goodyear committed the crimes for which Phillips was convicted includes:
• Remarkably consistent descriptions of the crimes and the perpetrator from the victims in the cases; the description matches Goodyear from his string of identical sex crimes nationwide;
• The clothing worn by the perpetrator in the Dallas County crimes matches the clothing Goodyear wore when committing identical crimes in other states;
• The gun used by the perpetrator in the Dallas County crimes is identical to the one Goodyear used when committing identical crimes in other states;
• The cloth the perpetrator in the Dallas County cases used to cover his face is identical to the one Goodyear used when committing identical crimes in other states;
• The threat the perpetrator shouted at women in the Dallas County crimes is identical to the threat Goodyear shouted at his victims in identical crimes in other states;
• The car used by the perpetrator in the Dallas County crimes is identical to the car Goodyear used when committing identical crimes in other states;
In addition, law enforcement officials have interviewed Goodyear’s former wife, who confirms Goodyear’s connection to much of the evidence: he frequently wore clothing that is identical to the clothing worn by the perpetrator in the Dallas County crimes (and the identical crimes in other states), he owned a gun similar to the one used in the crimes, he drove a car matching the description of the perpetrator’s car, and he frequently traveled around the country for work.
"All of this evidence was available to police in 1982, with the exception of DNA testing in one of the cases. Police in Kansas City worked with the FBI and helped apprehend Goodyear using the same evidence that police in Dallas ignored or hid," said Innocence Project Staff Attorney Jason Kreag. Phillips’ photo was in the police system because of a previous misdemeanor arrest.
In the 11 Dallas crimes for which Phillips was wrongfully convicted, there were at least 60 victims. At least 10 of those victims erroneously identified Phillips as the perpetrator. It is impossible to know how those identification procedures were conducted or how certain the victims were in their identifications. In addition, police circulated Phillips’ name and biographical information widely in the media before most of the victims identified him – which made their identifications highly unreliable.
The vast majority of wrongful convictions in Texas overturned through DNA testing were caused, at least in part, by eyewitness misidentification. Twenty-five wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing statewide involved eyewitness misidentification (out of 32 total DNA exonerations in the state). “Steven Phillips isn’t the first person wrongfully convicted based on eyewitness misidentification, even from multiple witnesses, and he won’t be the last unless we improve eyewitness identification procedures statewide,” Scheck said.
Fifteen people have been fully exonerated through DNA testing in Dallas County. Phillips will be officially exonerated if the judge at Tuesday’s hearing recommends that his convictions be vacated and dismissed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals approves the recommendation. Phillips was released from prison on parole late last year and has been living at a halfway house for supervised parolees. He works at a Christian book publishing company in the Dallas area. "Steven has already begun rebuilding his life and will be joined by his family and church community at Tuesday’s hearing," Kreag said.
Robert Udashen is local counsel on the case. Orchid Cellmark provided pro bono DNA testing in the case.
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