Texas Exonerees Testify at State Capitol in Support of Wrongful Conviction Reform Bill
04.04.17 By Innocence Staff
A bill that aims to prevent wrongful convictions in Texas went before the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Monday.
House Bill 34 would require police to electronically record all interrogations in felony investigations and require prosecutors to disclose information about jailhouse informants during trial, including criminal history, any benefits offered in exchange for testimony and a list of previous cases in which they acted as an informant.
Exonerees Chris Ochoa and Michael Morton testified at the state capitol in support of the bill, using the stories of their wrongful convictions to illustrate why the House must pass the reforms.
Ochoa was 22 years old when he pleaded guilty to a 1988 murder and sexual assault. During lengthy interrogations, police fed him information about the crime and threatened him with the death penalty. If Ochoa’s interrogations were recorded and used as evidence, he likely would not have been convicted. Ochoa served 13 years in prison before he was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2002.
“We have been fighting and fighting so these things won’t happen to anybody again, because it is devastating,” Ochoa told the committee, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Michael Morton was wrongfully convicted of killing his wife in 1987. He served 24 years in prison before DNA evidence from the crime scene excluded him and matched to a known offender with a history of similar crimes. Morton told the committee that it is essential to disclose information on jailhouse informants so that the court can assess the reliability of the witness and, in turn, guard against false testimony that could result in wrongful convictions.
“I lived with these guys,” Morton said, according to the Austin American-Statesman. “I used to sleep next to them. I took showers with them. There’s no reason we shouldn’t know their background. . . . We need that transparency.”
The bill also includes training for police in eyewitness identification best practices endorsed by the Innocence Project.
The committee took no action on Monday but the bill’s sponsor, Representative John Smithee, said he hopes to present a revised bill later this week which he is confident will pass.
Read the Dallas Morning News coverage here.
Related: Advocates Call for Recorded Interrogations in Kansas and Texas
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Raymond April 5, 2017 at 9:24 am
Keep up the good work.