A Texas man has been in prison for 30 years despite a declaration of actual innocence from a judge.
Centurion client Benjamine Spencer was convicted in 1987 of the murder of a 33-year-old man during a robbery. Three eyewitnesses claimed they saw Spencer and his friend Robert Mitchell abandoning the victim’s car the night of the crime in West Dallas.
The two men were found guilty and sentenced in separate trials. They were sentenced to life in prison.
Mitchell died shortly after being paroled in 2001, but Spencer remains in prison and has fought to prove his innocence throughout the 30 years that he’s been incarcerated. Centurion took his case in 1999.
During an evidentiary hearing in 2007, a forensic visual scientist testified it would be impossible for the witnesses to identify the two men in the dark from where they were each standing. One of the witnesses had died, while the other said that he was only minimally confident that it was Spencer he saw on the night of the crime. And a new witness testified that his friend, Michael Hubbard, confessed to the crime. Based on this evidence, and with the support of the presiding judge, Rick Magnis, Spencer’s legal team asked for a new trial.
Judge Magnis made a recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that Spencer be granted a writ of “actual innocence.”
But after a four year wait, the appellate court denied the request. In order to again request a new trial, Spencer’s attorney Cheryl Wattley told NPR, they now need new physical evidence.
As a last hope, fingernail scrapings performed on the victim may still be housed in the Dallas crime lab. If the DNA has not yet degraded, District Attorney Faith Johnson told NPR she would agree to the testing.
“Absolutely,” Johnson told NPR, “because we don’t want any innocent person to be in prison.”
Listen to the full broadcast here.