News 04.15.08

Wrongful Convictions in Texas Caused by Eyewitness Misidentification and Overturned with DNA Testing


1.

Gilbert Alejandro

– Ulvade County


Gilbert Alejandro was wrongfully convicted of aggravated sexual assault in 1990. The victim failed to identify Alejandro in several photo arrays but eventually she identified him in a composite sketch lineup. Alejandro was then placed in a live lineup and she identified him again. He served over three years when he was exonerated in 1994 through DNA testing.


2.

A.B. Butler

– Smith County


A.B. Butler was wrongfully convicted of kidnapping and rape in 1983. The victim initially identified Butler from a photo array and later in a live lineup and at trial. However, she never mentioned Butler’s missing front tooth, a prominent physical feature. After 16 years in prison, Butler was exonerated through DNA testing in 2000.


3.

Kevin Byrd

– Harris County


The victim of a 1985 rape gave police a detailed description of the man who raped her, including clothing, facial features, age and height. She also described him as a white male with an unusual brown skin color, a “honey brown color.” Four months after the initial incident, the victim was grocery shopping when she spotted Kevin Byrd, a black man, and told her husband that he was the man who raped her, despite her original description. Byrd was wrongfully convicted and served 12 years before his exoneration through DNA testing in 1997.


4.

Charles Chatman

– Dallas County


Charles Chatman was misidentified as the perpetrator of an assault against a woman who lived five houses away from him. She and Chatman had been neighbors for 13 years but they had never met. At the time of the crime, Chatman had no front teeth and was confident that characteristic would distinguish him from the true assailant. Still, he was wrongfully convicted in 1981 and served over 26 years before his exoneration through DNA testing in February of 2008.


5.

Wiley Fountain

– Dallas County


Wiley Fountain was wrongfully convicted of aggravated sexual assault in 1986. Police stopped Fountain, who matched the victim’s description, one block from the victim’s apartment. Like her assailant, Fountain was wearing a striped sweat suit and a baseball cap with a shower cap underneath. Fountain asserted that he was at home in bed when the victim was assaulted. He was exonerated through DNA testing in 2003 after serving 16 years in prison.   


6.

Larry Fuller

– Dallas County


The victim of a 1981 rape told police that she could not provide a description of the perpetrator because the attack occurred in a dimly lit room before sunrise. She was shown two photo arrays; Fuller was the only person whose photo appeared in both. The victim was alarmed that Fuller had a full beard, since she had said her attacker did not have facial hair. Placing her fingers over the bottom part of the photo, to block half of Fuller’s face, she then positively identified him, and he was arrested. Fuller was exonerated in 2007 through DNA testing. He had served over 19 years in prison.


7.

James Curtis Giles

– Dallas County


James Curtis Giles was wrongfully convicted of participating in a gang rape in 1983. One month after the attack, a Crime Stoppers tip led police to include Giles in a live lineup and the victim identified him as one of the three perpetrators. Giles was not identified by two other eyewitnesses in the lineup or at trial. At 29, he was a decade older than the description of the perpetrators, and he has two prominent gold teeth which the victim didn’t mention. Giles was exonerated through DNA testing after a decade in prison and 14 years on parole.


8.

Donald Wayne Good

– Dallas County


In 1984, Donald Wayne Good was wrongfully convicted of rape, sexual abuse and burglary. While Good was in custody for unrelated charges, a police officer came to believe that he matched the composite sketch of a suspect in another crime. Good’s photograph was placed in a photo lineup. Both the victim and her daughter identified Good as the man who broke into their home. Good was exonerated in 2004 after DNA testing excluded him from the biological evidence. He had served over 13 years.


9.

Andrew Gossett

– Dallas County


Four hours after a 1999 sexual assault, a police officer patrolling the area noticed Gossett rummaging through his pickup truck and looking suspicious, according to the officer. The officer did not hear of the crime until the following day and then he returned to arrest Gossett, who had a scar on his face consistent with the victim’s description, although he was smaller in body size than she had described. The victim identified Gossett from a photo array and he was convicted. Gossett served seven years before his exoneration through DNA testing in 2007.


10.

Carlos Lavernia

– Austin


Carlos Lavernia was wrongfully convicted of aggravated rape in 1985 and sentenced to 99 years in prison. Lavernia was identified as the rapist in a lineup where the victim testified that he was the only one who “anywhere near resembles” the police sketch. Lavernia had several distinguishing features that the victim did not mention, tattoos on both arms, a silver star in his tooth, and a heavy Hispanic accent. However, the victim’s identification was the principal evidence used to convict him. He was exonerated in 2000 after DNA testing was performed and proved his innocence. He had served 15 years.


11.

Billy Wayne Miller

– Dallas County


The victim of a 1983 sexual assault gave police the license plate number of her attacker, and she accompanied police to the scene of the attack. A Chevy Impala was parked in front of a house there with a license plate only one digit different from the victim’s memory. The car was registered to Billy Wayne Miller’s father. Miller was in the house when police came to the door, and they arrested him immediately. In 2006, after 22 years in prison, he was exonerated through DNA testing.


12.

Brandon Moon

– El Paso


In 1987, two days after an El Paso woman was raped, she viewed a photo array that included Moon’s picture. She thought that Moon resembled the perpetrator but she did not identify him. Police then arrested Moon and put him in a live lineup where he was the only one that was also in the photo array. He was also identified by two other women who were attacked by a perpetrator with a similar modus operandi. Moon was wrongfully convicted of three counts of sexual assault and sentenced to 75 years. He served 17 years before his exoneration in 2005 through DNA testing.

13.


David Shawn Pope

– Dallas County


At David Shawn Pope’s trial, the prosecution relied heavily on the victim’s identification of him. She had been unable to identify him in a photo array, but over a month later, she identified Pope in a live lineup. The prosecution’s evidence also included a “voice print analysis,” which was said to match Pope’s voice to messages left on the victim’s answering machine in the weeks after the crime. Voice print analysis has since been deemed too unreliable for use in court. Pope was wrongfully convicted and served 15 years before DNA testing led to his exoneration in 2001.


14.

Anthony Robinson

– Houston


University of Houston Police arrested Anthony Robinson because he matched the description that a rape victim had given of her attacker: a black man wearing a plaid shirt. The victim also said the attacker had a mustache which Robinson did not. The victim’s identification of him was the prosecution’s strongest evidence, and it led to his wrongful conviction in 1987. DNA testing proved his innocence in 2000 and he was exonerated after a decade in prison and several years on parole.          


15.

George Rodriguez

– Houston


George Rodriguez was wrongfully convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a child and kidnapping in 1987. Police showed the victim a photo array that included Rodriguez’s photo, and the victim identified him as one of the two attackers. Despite overwhelming evidence pointing to a different assailant, police relied on the identification and continued to consider Rodriguez a suspect. She later testified that she had only been able to view the attackers’ face for three to four seconds during the attack. Rodriguez served 17 years before his exoneration through DNA testing in 2005.


16.

Ben Salazar

– Austin


Ben Salazar was wrongfully convicted of aggravated sexual assault in 1992. The victim picked out Salazar’s photo out of several albums of photographs at the police station. The victim identified Salazar’s tattoo as matching the tattoo of the perpetrator. Additionally, the perpetrator smoked the same brand of cigarettes as Salazar. Three rounds of DNA testing in 1997 excluded Salazar from the crime and he was exonerated after serving five years in prison.


17.

Billy James Smith

– Dallas County


The victim of a 1986 rape told her boyfriend that she believed the rapist was someone who lived in the same apartment complex. The boyfriend, thinking that Smith matched her description of the perpetrator, went down to his apartment. When the victim saw Smith she identified him as her attacker. At trial, the prosecution also used the identification of the boyfriend as evidence, even though he had not witnessed the attack. Smith was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He served 19 years until DNA testing proved his innocence in 2006.


18.

Josiah Sutton

– Houston


Police investigating a 1998 rape were looking for a man, 5’7” who was approximately 135 pounds. Sutton was picked up despite being 6’ and 200 pounds at the time. The victim identified Sutton and one other boy, but only Sutton was brought to trial. He was wrongfully convicted and then exonerated over four years later after a crime lab investigation uncovered erroneous DNA lab reports leading to new DNA tests which proved Sutton’s innocence.


19.

Ronald Gene Taylor

– Houston


During the investigation of a 1993 sexual assault, Taylor was put in a lineup because he lived near where the perpetrator was last seen. The police could not reach the victim to come to the station for the lineup, so they videotaped the procedure and brought the tape to her home. She viewed the tape in the presence of one officer—without witnesses or attorneys for the defendant. While watching the video she suddenly “remembered” that the attacker had a tooth missing (which was not part of her initial description), and she identified Taylor. Taylor served 12 years in prison until January 2008 when DNA testing showed that he could not have been the perpetrator.


20.

Victor Larue Thomas

– Ellis County


Victor Larue Thomas’ wrongful rape and robbery conviction in 1986 was based largely on the victim’s eyewitness identification testimony. The victim identified Thomas as the man who attacked her in a convenience store during an armed robbery. Thomas served 12 years and was exonerated through DNA testing in 2002.


21.

Keith E. Turner

– Dallas County


Almost four months after a 1983 sexual assault, the victim was at work when she saw Keith Turner, a truck driver for the same furniture company, enter her office. The two didn’t know each other, but she believed that he was the man who had raped her. A few days later, Turner was questioned and arrested, and the victim identified him from a photo array. Turner served four years in prison and six on parole before DNA testing led to his exoneration.

   


22.

James Waller

– Dallas County


The child victim of a 1983 child sexual assault was at a neighborhood store, later on in the day of the assault, when he thought he heard the voice of the man who attacked him. He turned around and saw James Waller, and believed him to be the man. The perpetrator had been African-American, like Waller, whose family were the only African-Americans living in the boy’s apartment complex. Waller was convicted of the crime and served 10 years in prison and 14 years on parole as a registered sex offender before DNA testing exonerated him in 2007.


23.

Gregory Wallis

– Dallas County


Gregory Wallis was wrongfully convicted of burglary and intent to commit sexual assault in 1989. The victim gave a description of the attacker to the police, but there were no leads and the investigation went unsolved. Four months passed when an inmate in a local jail saw a flier of the attack and told authorities that Wallis had the same tattoo as the one described by the victim. The victim subsequently chose Wallis out of a photo array.

Wallis spent 17 years in prison before DNA testing led to his exoneration.

Profile: 


24.

Mark Webb

– Tarrant County


Mark Webb was wrongfully convicted of rape in 1987. The prosecution relied heavily on the witness’s identification during trial. The victim identified Webb in court as her attacker. Webb served 10 years before DNA testing proved his innocence in 2001.  

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