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Prosecutorial Misconduct in Texas: Continuing Injustice

For criminal defense lawyers in Texas, the idea that prosecutors are human and sometimes do very bad things isn’t news. It’s something to be monitored during every case and almost every day you ask yourself the question: is the prosecutor trying to pull a fast one here? Real life isn’t like TV shows, albeit even Law & Order’s Jack McCoy was known to push the edge of the envelope.

List of Reported Cases of Texas Prosecutorial Misconduct

However, it is becoming more and more shocking just how many Texas prosecutorial misconduct cases are being reported in the news media these days.  Media coverage of prosecutors accused of doing very bad things in our state just keeps coming.

Consider these cases reported in the national news and monitored here in past blog posts:

1. Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins

Dallas DA was found in contempt of court for not giving testimony at a hearing into his possible prosecutorial misconduct by District Court Judge Lena Levario because he refused to testify in her courtroom at a hearing on possible prosecutorial misconduct in the filing of mortgage fraud criminal charges against Al Hill III.

2. Nueces County District Attorney Anna Jimenez

Corpus Christi DA was indicted by a Jackson County Grand Jury on aggravated perjury charges; the indictment alleged that Ms. Jimenez made false statements about witnesses in the murder case of Christian Blair Robinson, accused of murdering his 5 month old infant son. Jimenez was alleged to have sworn in an affidavit that three witnesses were not available because they refused to be interviewed and one witness could not be found. According to the indictment, these 3 witnesses had been interviewed by others while the 4th witness had not been contacted.

3. Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson

Georgetown DA Ken Anderson is the prosecutor who tried the Michael Morton case, only to later have Anderson found guilty of violating Texas law as well as being in contempt of court by Judge Louis Sturns in a Court of Inquiry ordered by the Texas Supreme Court. Anderson was ruled to have committed two acts of misconduct: (1) withholding the transcript of an interview local police had with Michael Morton’s little boy where the child told them that his dad was not home when his mother was killed and that he had seen the murder as it happened; and (2) holding back evidence that there was a green van parked near the Morton’s house that day, and that a stranger was seen parking the green van and walking not once, but several times, into the woods behind the Morton home during the pertinent time period.

4. Shelby County District Attorney Karren Price

Shelby County DA Price’s prosecution of Kenneth Wayne Boyd, Jr., was reviewed by District Court Judge Charles Mitchell who ordered Boyd exonerated after ruling that Price intentionally introduced false evidence in Boyd’s trial in addition to suppressing evidence. Boyd was freed after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals acted on his petition for writ of habeas corpus based upon Judge Mitchell’s fact findings.

5. Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos

South Texas DA Armando Villalobos faced federal charges of prosecutorial misconduct that involved several things, including taking bribes; handing out bribes; extortion, improper influence, concealment, and conflict of interest. Among the allegations is that the prosecutor made a deal to pay a local judge cash so the judge would enter the plea deal that Villalobos wanted in a case where the convicted murderer ended up released on bond and ran away.

Texas Laws Have Been Passed to Fight Against Prosecutorial Misconduct

It’s true that after the Michael Morton case, things did happen. The Texas Legislature passed new laws to fight against the harm and injustice of prosecutors’ bad acts. For details, see “New Texas Laws Targeting Prosecutorial Misconduct: The Michael Morton Act And New Tex Gov’t Code 81.072(B) Limitations – Do They Really Help Texas Citizens?

The question now is whether or not the new focus on prosecutor performance is going to prevent injustice in the future, and we’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, these horrific stories of prosecutors sending innocent people to jail by doing bad things just keep on coming.

Cameron Todd Willingham – Prosecutorial Misconduct Allowing Innocent to Die?

Tragically, in some situations, the prosecutor’s wrongdoing has been revealed after the defendant has died or been executed after a wrongful conviction. Like the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed by the State of Texas long before the bad acts of that criminal trial prosecutor were revealed.

We’re just now learning about the failure of the prosecutor in this death penalty murder case to provide the defense lawyer with a cooperation agreement with a trial witness.

This month, the Innocence Project filed a grievance with the State Bar of Texas against Navarro County District Attorney John H. Jackson, who prosecuted the murder trial of Cameron Todd Willingham for the deaths of his young daughters in a fire that Willingham was accused of setting.

Cameron Todd Willingham consistently argued that he was innocent of these crimes. Nevertheless, he was convicted and sentenced to die for these homicides. On February 17, 2004, Willingham was executed.

Now, the Innocence Project is moving forward on its allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in the Willingham trial. It is already widely acknowledged that the forensic evidence that formed the basis of the arson charges was wrong, and that Willingham was an innocent man.

Allegations are going forward that the prosecutor did more than rely on junk science. According to the Innocence Project, the prosecutor knew that his informant and witness, who claimed that Willingham had confessed to murdering his children while they were jailed together as fellow inmates, lied.

And that after the inmate changed his tune, the prosecutor worked hard to keep that recanting a secret.

The Innocence Project is also prepared to present facts to the State Bar of Texas that Jackson worked with a rich rancher named Charles S. Pearce to hide the inmate’s change in his damning testimony — including hiding a written letter from Johnny Webb that was written many years before Willingham was executed.

The letter is dated 2000; Willingham died four years later.

The letter is online for you to read, published by the Washington Post, along with other documentation supporting the allegations against Jackson in the Willingham case.

 


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