Updated 03/06/2013 09:21 AM
Lawmakers consider oversight group to investigate post-conviction DNA exonerations
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Texas may lead the country with 47 post-conviction DNA exonerations, but some legislators argue the Lone Star State needs to do more to ensure innocent men and women aren’t sent to prison.
Now, inside the walls of the State Capitol, a group of lawmakers have proposed a bill to only keep criminals behind bars.
Democrat Rep. Ruth McClendon of District 21 is the author of House Bill 166. Tuesday, she told the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee her plan for the legislation was simple: "To help minimize the number of wrongful convictions."
The bill would create the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Panel. Named after Timothy Cole, a man who died in a Texas prison while serving time for a crime he did not commit, the commission would investigate the cause for wrongful convictions. It would then place prosecutors and judges under the spotlight.
Rep. Terry Canales is the co-author of House Bill 166. He said Tuesday if the legislation "saves one person from going being incarcerated wrongfully in jail for one day, then it did its job."
Released from prison in 2008, Johnny Lindsey served 26 years for a rape the courts now know he didn't commit.
"Prosecutor misconduct, that is the thing that is causing all of these problems," Lindsey said.
Prosecutorial misconduct is suspected to be at the heart of Michael Morton’s wrongful conviction in 1987. Morton was released from prison in October of 2011 after DNA collected at the scene was tested, confirming that another man had murdered Morton’s wife.
The prosecutor in his trial, sitting Williamson County District Judge Ken Anderson, is now on the defense, facing accusations in a court of inquiry that he deliberately obscured the evidence from Morton’s team.
"It's time for a sunrise to rise on the commission to find out why these exonerations are happening,” Cory Session, policy director for the Innocence Project of Texas, said.
If H.B. 166 passes, it would take effect later this year.