Freeing the innocent and identifying true perpetrators


By Thomas McGowan, Texas Exoneree

Thomas McGowan served 23 years in Texas prison for a rape he didn’t commit.  DNA exonerated him, and the real perpetrator was identified. Today on the Innocence Blog, McGowan writes about finding the person whose crime stole 23 years of his life. DNA testing has exonerated 218 wrongfully convicted people to date, and in nearly 40% of those cases, the actual perpetrator of the crime was subsequently identified.

I never saw Kenneth Wayne Woodson; I don’t know if he ever saw me. He went to prison a year later than I did. I’m glad he confessed, but I think the only reason he did is because of the DNA hit. If Woodson had been caught at first, then he wouldn’t have had time to assault anybody else. Now the word is out, even though he can’t be punished for  this crime.

For years I was thinking, how could the witness make a mistake? Last week I learned that Woodson’s photo was in the same lineup that my photo was in.  When she pointed to my picture she said she thought I was the perpetrator, but the police told her she had to say “yes” or “no.” The police pressured her and told her that she had to be sure. Everybody makes mistakes. I don’t hold anything against her.

Woodson is probably one of those people that just doesn’t care. I used to see guys like him sometimes. Guys like that get out of prison two or three times and then they come back. Six months later the same guy comes back and asks me: “Hey, you still here?” Those guys got two or three chances. I couldn’t get one chance and I was innocent. I think the hardest thing was when I came up for parole after doing 20 years. I had two life sentences stacked. I was looking to make it out of there alive. But they weren’t going to let me out. I used to pray to God, “Please, if nothing else, I don’t want to die in prison. I don’t want to go to my grave with my family and friends thinking I did a crime like this.”

DNA is the truth. In my case, we also have a man that confessed that he did the crime. You can’t get the truth any better than that. I served Woodson’s time for him. Ain’t no telling what else he did. I don’t even know what I would say to the dude other than, “It was your fault.” I know everyone can change, but he might be one of those men who finds it real hard to change. People have got to want to do the right thing. For a while, I thought the whole world was crazed and lost. But I can see now that there are still good people in the world.  

Lots of other things are coming into focus now, too. Having a job would make me feel like I have a full life. I would like a job where I can work with people, like at a nursing home or a hospital. It’s just a matter of time until somebody feels like they want to give me a chance. Since three months ago when all of this started happening, it keeps getting better and better. That’s really what I’m working towards. I’m trying to have a life.

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