Claude Alvin Simmons, Jr., 54, and Christopher Shun Scott, 39, who are both serving life sentences for the April 7, 1997, shooting death of Alfonso Aguilar, will both be released after convicted robber Alonzo Hardy gave authorities a detailed confession implicating himself and another man in the murder.
A confession by a man already in prison for another crime will lead to the exoneration of two men wrongly convicted for a 1997 capital murder, the Dallas County district attorney's office said today.
Hardy, 39, has been in prison since 1999, serving a 30-year sentence for a robbery committed a year after the Aguilar slaying.
Aguilar, 41, was fatally shot in the chest during a home-invasion robbery in the 4600 block of Hopkins Avenue. A female relative was also sexually assaulted during the incident, authorities had said. A Dallas County jury convicted Simmons after just six minutes of deliberations.
Dallas police Tuesday night arrested Don Michael Anderson, 40, in Houston for his role in the killing. According to the district attorney's office, Hardy's confession implicated Anderson and cleared both Simmons and Scott of any involvement in the crime.
The News article by Diane Jennings doesn't say what was the underlying cause of the false conviction, but looking at the photos it appears to have been a bad eyewitness identification. Here are pictures of the falsely convicted men:
And here are the pictures of the actual perpetrators:
Pretty darn close, huh? More and more I believe that, in cases where the witness didn't previously know the defendant, all eyewitness identification testimony should require corroboration in criminal court, particularly if the Legislature and the courts don't require police to use best practices when gathering eyewitness evidence. Witnesses just get it wrong too frequently, and too predictably.
UPDATE: AP confirms this was a case of mistaken eyewitness ID: "'This is a classic misidentification, eyewitness case,' said Simmons' attorney, John Stickels."
NUTHER UPDATE (10/22): I spoke last night to Mike Ware, the head of the Dallas DA's Conviction Integrity Unit, who told me a little more about the case. He said the new confession - taken over two days of depositions in June - was detailed and matched up with crime scene evidence a lot better than the prosecution's theory of the case.
A single, uncorroborated witness was the sole basis for both false convictions, he said. Both defendants testified on their own behalf and put on alibi evidence, but the jury believed the prosecution's witness over them. (I don't know the stats on how many DNA exonerees in Texas presented alibi evidence at trial, but it was quite a few of them.) He pointed out that back then Dallas had not yet improved its eyewitness ID procedures to require blind administration and showing pictures sequentially instead of in a photo array.
What's more, says Ware, the apparent real perpetrators were suspects back in 1997 and one of them actually confessed at the time to a third party, but the judge wouldn't let the jury hear that evidence. Mike thought that judicial decision was likely the deciding factor in the false conviction - that the outcome might have been different if the jury had heard all the evidence. As is often the case with recent exonerations, it wasn't just the eyewitness ID error but that combined with other breakdowns in the process that allowed this mistake to happen.
Both the currently imprisoned men and the new confessor passed polygraphs, said Ware, and the DA's office offered no promises or deal to Alonzo Hardy for his testimony. They plan to prosecute both new suspects for the offense, he said.
MORE: The Dallas Observer interviewed Craig Watkins about the cases. Here's a longer version of the Dallas News story.