Prosecutorial Misconduct is a Big, Big Problem in Texas – Here Are Just a Few Examples
Call them prosecutors, district attorneys, attorneys general, or state attorneys: attorneys representing the government in criminal cases have a different role than compiling a winning trial record, or at least that’s what we all assume. These lawyers are in it not for money or for power, but for justice, right? No. Recently, it’s become all too obvious that this is not the truth.
The truth is that prosecutorial misconduct is a big, big problem.
It’s a huge problem here in Texas, and as we’ve learned this week in the Ray Gricar / Penn State scandal, it’s also a big problem in other parts of the country. (To read my post on Gricar’s failure to prosecute, go here).
This week, the Dallas Morning News published an editorial that we should all read and consider. Entitled “Editorial: How to curb rogue prosecutors,” four recent examples are given, where prosecutors closed their eyes and ears to justice and instead, messed with evidence — evidence that has now cleared convicted individuals, evidence that the state held even though that evidence might help the defense.
The four examples?
Michael Morton (read our earlier post here on Morton’s case). Here, the district attorney held back evidence that pointed to another person as being the one who killed Morton’s wife as Morton was convicted and served 25 years in a Texas prison before legal battles succeeded in getting his release.
Anthony Graves, who served 18 years in a Texas prison – part of that on Texas Death Row – after the prosecutor jerked around with witness testimony to get Graves convicted for killing 6 people. Graves was exonerated and freed last fall. This summer, Graves finally won his fight for restitution and received $1.4 million from the State of Texas.
Dale Lincoln Duke spent 14 years in a Texas prison after the prosecutor saw fit to hold back evidence which supported Duke’s defense against child abuse charges. On November 4, 2011, a Dallas County Judge declared Duke innocent of all charges and Duke is eligible for $2 million in restitution.
Chelsea Richardson served time on Texas Death Row only to get the death penalty taken off the table (she’s still going to serve a life sentence) when appellate fights revealed that the prosecution did not share mitigating evidence with the defense that another defendant was the mastermind in the plot to kill the parents of Richardson’s boyfriend.
Think this is all? Not by a long shot.
Consider the pending case of Hank Skinner (read the details in our earlier post). Skinner is fighting for DNA testing of evidence that the prosecutors never saw fit to test which Skinner maintains will prove his innocence. Skinner was set to be executed by the State of Texas last week, but Skinner was granted another stay — to argue for DNA testing, it still hasn’t happened yet.
Delma Banks had to go all the way to the United States Supreme Court before it was confirmed that prosecutors had suppressed evidence in her case (along with lots of other bad things) and she was freed. Read about her case here.
Former Texas District Attorney Stephanie McFarland got caught withholding evidence TWICE before things changed (read the details here).
Yolanda Madden spent four years in jail before it was confirmed that the prosecutor withheld evidence in her case: seems that it took a federal judge to grant Madden’s freedom. Read the details here.
This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means. However, it does serve to demonstrate that district attorneys need to be viewed in a different light today – by criminal defense attorneys, by judges, by juries, by the public.
Take the time to count the years that people listed above wrongfully spent in jail, think about if that was your loved one: things must change, and until they do, prosecutors should not be assumed to be working solely in the pursuit of justice. Because all too often, they’re not.
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