Tuesday, November 18, 2008

High Praise

Scott Horton praises our own local District Attorney Craig Watkins for doing "God's work" in his efforts to overturn wrongful convictions. The real credit should go to Dallas voters, who had the good sense to vote this man into office in the Democratic sweep of 2006. And thanks in no small part to the efforts of Craig Watkins and Mike Ware, the head of Watkins' recently formed Conviction Integrity Unit, another Dallas man was freed yesterday pending the appeal of his conviction. Antrone Lynelle Johnson pled guilty to a sexual assault in 1995. At issue is an unsigned note in the prosecutor's case file that indicates that the victim in the case recanted her allegations that Johnson assaulted her, exculpatory evidence that was apparently never provided to Johnson's defense attorney. The prosecutor in Johnson's case, Patricia Hogue, vehemently denies withholding evidence in the case:

Former prosecutor Patricia Hogue said Monday afternoon that she did not recall his 1995 case but that she would not have hidden evidence, as implied by the district attorney's decision to support Mr. Johnson's request that he be cleared.

"It is a damn lie," she said. Later in the evening, Ms. Hogue said she did recall the case. She said she told Mr. Johnson's attorney about the evidence and proceeded because she thought Mr. Johnson was guilty.

Ms. Hogue said she is angry the district attorney's office did not call to ask her about the case, review the file or testify in court. "I'm really shocked and insulted by their behavior."

Prosecutor Mike Ware, who oversees the conviction integrity unit and is now handling Mr. Johnson's case, said talking to Ms. Hogue about the case would have been useless.

"I didn't think it would be productive to call and interview someone I could not believe," Mr. Ware said.

Ouch. Hogue's assertion that she turned this evidence over to Johnson's defense attorney is unbelievable, and Johnson's former attorney insists that he would not have told Johnson to plead guilty had he been aware of such evidence. Prosecutors are also accused of withholding exculpatory evidence in a second sexual assault case against Mr. Johnson, again when the victim recanted her story before a grand jury. Johnson has already served the five years he received for that conviction, though it was that conviction that saw his deferred adjudication for the earlier crime revoked and his life sentence reinstated. 

Craig Watkins has demonstrated repeatedly his commitment to justice, as opposed to prior Dallas County prosecutors, who apparently thought their job was simply to rack up convictions, regardless of the guilt or innocence of the men and women they prosecuted. Watkins, and the team of attorneys he has put together to ensure that justice is done to wrongfully convicted men and women, deserves all the praise he recieves and more. 

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