Johnnie Earl Lindsey made six unanswered requests for DNA testing before the rape kit from 1981 was finally tested. Were public officials eager to save the tax payer a few bucks even if it meant keeping an innocent man behind bars? Did these people secretly fear they would look bad if DNA testing proved they had convicted the wrong man? Or did they just not care?
The article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram provides some insight:
Lindsey, who had a prior conviction for aggravated robbery, became a suspect in the rape of a woman near White Rock Lake after pleading guilty to attempted rape in a separate case, a legal maneuver Moore said “was a business decision” to avoid a lengthy sentence.
Police included his picture in a photo lineup mailed to the White Rock Lake victim about a year later. The woman was raped by a shirtless man, and Lindsey was one of two shirtless men among the six photos.
Police officers had a shirtless man with a prior conviction so they mailed the suspect a photo array explicitly designed to implicate Lindsey. Once the identification was made, nobody cared that the prime suspect had time cards showing he was at work at the time of the rape and a boss willing to corroborate the alibi. Law enforcement and the prosecuting attorney wanted to get the case off their desks and move on to more pressing matters. “Hey, the guy has an assault on his record. If he didn’t do this one, he probably did something just as bad.”
Lindsey is the 20th defendant cleared by DNA evidence in the past seven years . . . in Dallas County alone. If Dallas County hadn’t preserved decades-old physical evidence, Lindsey would have died behind bars.
Most of the credit for the horrifying spate of exonerations goes to Dallas County DA Craig Watkins. Here we have the rarest of individuals, a prosecutor who cares more about justice than about carving notches in his prosecutorial belt.
On the same page as the Lindsey story, you can read about Timothy Brian Cole, a young black man convicted of raping a Texas Tech co-ed in 1985. Unlike Lindsey, Mr. Cole didn’t make it back to free world–he died in a Texas prison in 1999.
Once again, an intentionally misleading photo array was part of the problem. The victim was shown six pictures by a Lubbock police officer (at least the array didn’t come in the mail): five standard mugshots, and one Polaroid. Guess which picture was of Timothy Brian Cole?
If law enforcement wanted to avoid wrongful convictions they would have show witnesses several pages of photographs. And they would ensure that the officer presenting the array didn’t know the identity of the prime suspect. You can’t subtly influence a witness if you don’t know one man from the next.
Michelle Mallin, the rape victim, was horrified to learn that Coles was innocent and that a second man had confessed to the crime. She had been so sure she had the right guy. Unfortunately, her false sense of certainty was created by police officers eager to clear a case and a prosecutor gunning for another conviction.
Can we clone Craig Watkins?
When you come across two tragic stories on a single newspaper page you know you’ve got a big problem. The conservative Dallas Morning News recently congratulated Mr. Watkins for his crusading efforts, but couldn’t resist the suggestion that the African American prosecutor is playing to the cameras. Nonsense: when twenty people are exonerated by DNA evidence in a single county the cameras are going to be there whether you want them or not. Watkins is right to attract as much publicity to this issue as he can.
As even the DMN editors admit:
A deluge of DNA exonerations in Dallas County has shaken confidence in the judicial system, spurring serious questions about flawed photo lineups, erroneous eyewitness testimony and prosecutorial misconduct.
Senator Rodney Ellis has been calling for a Texas State Innocence Commission since he played a role in overturning the Tulia drug sting in 2003. Last year, the Texas Legislature rejected the idea, (nobody in politics wants to look soft on crime). But the pressure mounts with each additional exoneration. It won’t be long before Texas takes a serious look at this problem.
Hopefully, the state of Georgia will follow suit while Troy Davis remains in the land of the living.