Monday, February 20, 2012

Congratulations to Richard Miles, Dallas' latest non-DNA exoneree

Congratulations to Richard Miles, his attorneys, and supporters in Dallas after his exhilarating exoneration last week, as the Court of Criminal Appeals formally dismissed charges against him - a rare instance indeed given that there was no DNA evidence in his case, which is how most recent Texas exonerees have been sprung. Reported Leslie Minora at The Dallas Observer:
Congratulations to Richard Miles. Hurrah!
Free for two years, Richard Miles has nevertheless waited and waited for today -- the official acknowledgement that he did not commit the  murder and attempted murder at a Texaco near Bachman Lake in 1994 for which he was sent to prison. The detailed 52-page opinion handed down from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reads like the outline of a Hitchcock film, detailing two police reports that weren't disclosed at the time of Miles's conviction, a 2010 recantation from the only uninvolved eyewitness and the determination that the small amount of gunshot residue on Miles' hand was inconclusive. All of which amounted to the decision that the wrong man spent 14 years behind bars.

"When we balance the newly available evidence ... with other exculpatory evidence and the evidence of guilt presented at trial, we are satisfied that Applicant has shown by clear and convincing evidence that no rational jury would convict him in light of the new evidence," reads the court's opinion released today.

The Dallas County District Attorney's office recommended Miles's release in 2009 after they determined that flaws in his trial violated his constitutional rights. Since his release more than two years ago, he's been working, piecing his life back together and finding support in other exonerees as he waited for a decision from the state court, which must rule on all exoneration cases. But finally, as of today Miles can file for state compensation for his years spent locked up.

"This is going to be great for him because now he can do some of the things he wanted to do" like help his mother, said Charles Chatman, an exoneree who was released in 2008. Chatman and the other exonerees, including Miles, meet monthly, and Chatman tells Unfair Park that he and the other guys have given Miles a helping had since his release.

"We have helped him," Chatman says, quickly adding that Miles isn't "the kind of person who just depends on nobody." Miles has been getting by working at a hotel, Chatman said, but even finding a job was difficult without a declaration of "actual innocence."

The state court's decision comes a year after The Dallas Morning News checked in with him as he continued to await the ruling. Miles was released after Centurion Ministries, a non-profit that explores wrongful convictions, found previously withheld evidence that linked another man to the 1994 murder and compiled evidence in favor of Miles's innocence.

In a December feature, the Observer explored the complexity of exoneration cases where there is no DNA evidence to definitively prove guilt or innocence. Miles's case, a non-DNA exoneration, rested squarely on eyewitness testimony, and when the case was explored years later, it was discovered that two police reports were never turned over to the defense, as is required of the prosecution.
Wherever you are, take a moment to stand and applaud, or issue a triumphant "Hurrah!" on Mr. Miles' behalf. With no DNA evidence, and the recent Ex Parte Robbins ruling that raised the bar to near impossible heights to challenge tainted, inaccurate forensic testimony, it's unlikely Miles could have been exonerated if they couldn't prove prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence, which once again was discovered after the fact via the Public Information Act. But the fact that all that other existed surely contributed to the convicting court recommending, with the assent of the Dallas DA's office, that Miles be granted habeas relief based on "actual innocence" as a result of the "Brady" violations.

This case provides another data point for Grits' hypothesis that, because of limitations imposed by the Court of Criminal Appeals in Robbins as well as an array of other court precedents and statutes over the years that chipped away at the efficacy of state habeas claims, today "prosecutorial misconduct - particularly withholding exculpatory evidence ... may be the quickest route to exoneration."

That was the path taken here. Miles' lawyers almost had to go that route because it's the main avenue the Sharon Keller Court and the Texas Legislature have left open, so byzantine and restrictive has modern Texas habeas law become. In truth, there were many grounds to call Miles' conviction into question that in an ideal world should have garnered him relief in addition to the Brady claims: As a reader put it via email, this was an "Amazing case that involved the Dallas Police not turning over exculpatory evidence, a show-up ID, and an expert who changed her opinion of the gun-shot residue evidence. A perfect storm of the various causes of wrongful convictions."

False convictions occur for a vast array of reasons, but under Texas habeas law, proving prosecutors violated Brady v. Maryland is one of the few areas besides DNA testing where Texas courts seem willing to provide relief.

Anyway, back to Richard Miles' exoneration. The same day the court's ruling was announced, an elated paralegal named Jena Parker, who formerly worked for the Dallas DA's office and now works for two former Craig Watkins-lieutenants now in private practice, sent out an mass email rejoicing and praising everyone involved. She worked on the case both at the DA's Office and in private practice, and certainly has forgotten more about it than I'll ever know, so let's close out this post by reprinting Jena's email here with her permission:
I am just emailing everyone that I have in my address book so if you get offended then hit your delete key.  Most of you know that I  have been very fortunate to work for Mike Ware for 18 years.  When Craig Watkins got elected D.A. in Dallas County he hired Terri Moore as his first assistant.  I could go on and on about what a remarkable job she did and that was brilliant that Mr. Watkins hired her.  Terri Moore came up with the idea of the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU).  She knew that there were cases prior to Mr. Watkins taking office that had been turned down for DNA testing and she knew that there were already 10 exonerees.  So she came up with the idea of creating the CIU to look at cases where defendants were saying that they were innocent.   But she knew that in Dallas County, SWIFS had kept the evidence in these old cases.  So Terri asked Mike to head up the CIU.  I was very fortunate that I worked for Mike so he took me with him. 
To try to make this short.  I truly believe 100% if Craig Watkins wasn’t elected District Attorney then the other 17 exonerees (I think there are 28 exonerees now.  We had just finished working on Ricky Dale Wyatt when we left so it might be 29 exonerees total now.  I lose track  But I think after Craig Watkins was elected the CIU had a part in 17 or 18 of the 28 or 29 exonerees).
Back to my story.  In 2009, Jim McCloskey from Centurion Ministries came to talk to Terri about a defendant, Richard Miles.  Cheryl Wattley from Centurion Ministries and Jim had been investigating Richard’s claims of actual innocence.  Richard was convicted of a 1994 murder. Jim had done an TPIR request on the Dallas Police Dept and found 2 reports of 2 other suspects.  Jim had interviewed one of the possible suspects. Jim brought the case to Terri and Terri immediately had me try to get the D.A. file which I did and the CIU began its investigation.  This was a non DNA case.  Through our investigation we talked to the only witness that identified Richard as the shooter.  When we were interviewing him, he told us that when he got to court, he had told the prosecutor that he couldn’t identify the shooter.  The prosecutor told him to identify the guy at defense table. (The prosecutor was Tom D’Amore.)  After the CIU investigated this case along with Michelle Moore and John Stickels, they were also exonerated.) The witness signed an affidavit to that effect of what the prosecutor (Tom D’Amore) said about identifying Richard at trial.
The only other witness was the trace analyst from SWIFS. We sent her trial testimony and other evidence to her for her to re-review then Mike spoke to her.  She told Mike and also signed an affidavit that she would not have testified now to what she testified at Richard’s trial regarding the gun residue.  This was huge as it could open the door for other gun residue cases.  Based on this newly discovered evidence, Richard filed another writ which we agreed to his innocence.  This was over 2 years ago.  Today, the Court of Criminal Appeals wrote a published 26 page opinion which can be found here. The opinion stated all the investigation on his case including that there was a fingerprint on top of the victim’s car where the shooter would have put his hand.   Mike had our investigator, Jim Hammond (who is the greatest) to run it through AVIS and sure enough it came back to this guy.  Jim and Mike interviewed him and also he did a polygraph which he failed about the shooting.  I think it is a great opinion but what it does not do is name the prosecutor....
I have worked on cases that Michelle Moore (several) Gary Udashen, John Stickels, Jason Kreag from Innocence Project, Shirley Baccus-Lobel and other defense attorneys who had clients that the previous administration fought against from finding out the truth.  Patrick Waller’s case is another example of how I could go on and on about what Gary went through and then all the investigation CIU did to find the truth.  (And brother the CIU did an extensive investigation)  Steven Phillips another example of a WOW case.  Anyway, I could get on a roll about each case.  How in some of those cases the real perpetrator was in the previous administration’s file all along .  Just makes me ill thinking about all the injustice that went on.
Back to my story.  It has been over 2 years since Richard’s actual innocence writ was filed and today the court agreed that Richard is innocence.  Oh by the way.  On a different case that we worked on, Mike told the truth about a previous prosecutor not disclosing evidence and it was printed.  John Bradley, Williamson County District Attorney (and who all know about him fighting DNA testing in Michael Morton case for 2 years or longer.  And we all know that Michael Morton is innocent) called Mr. Watkins up and wanted Mr. Watkins to fire or discipline Mike.  (I forgot which one) Why did Bradley want Mike fired.  Because the previous prosecutor withheld Brady and Bradley didn’t like that Mike told the truth about her withholding Brady.  (Guess he figured that withholding Brady was ok as long as there was a conviction.)
Again, there is no doubt in my heart that if Craig Watkins had not got elected and if Terri Moore and  Mike Ware were not hired to be First Assistance and Chief of the Conviction Integrity Unit then those other exonerees would still be in prison today.  There is no doubt in my mind.  I hope I don’t get in trouble by sending this email as Mike and Terri don’t know but you all know me and my mouth.  I am sure it won’t be the last time I open it or type it.  I just hope this makes some sense because my emails are really confusing especially when I am trying to explain things.
Please take the time to read the opinion and if anyone has any pull its time we stood up to prosecutors who hide the truth.  Because as you know for every innocence guy in prison there is a guilty person still committing crimes on other victims.  Just ask the other victims in Stephen Phillips case or Thomas McGowan case or Stephen Brodie case or Michael Morton’s case. . . .
Stephen Brodie (false confession).  Another case you know I can talk about but I will shut up.  I got to work.
As you all know, Mike and Terri are back in private practice and I am really truly blessed that I am still working for Mike and Terri where they continue to seek justice. And Thank Goodness that the Court of Criminal Appeals did the right thing in finding that Richard Miles is innocent of murder.
Amen. Congratulations again to everyone involved.


Ryan Paige said...

"prosecutorial misconduct - particularly withholding exculpatory evidence ... may be the quickest route to exoneration."

It's a good thing so many prosecutors were willing to play along with this line of defense by consistently withholding so much exculpatory evidence that the law required them to turn over.

Anonymous said...

"Applicant should also be granted relief, independently, on the ground of flawed forensic testimony."
Is this going to be a reoccurring theme, forensic analysts recanting scientific testimony from decades ago?

To Craig Watkins - you have several prosecutorial misconduct cases to pursue, and now your forensic analysts are questioning their own science.

Better get moving on correcting these if you want the public to believe that you are a man of your word and "smart on crime".

rodsmith said...

this has gone on so long and so much. I think it's long past time to make it a capital crime with mandatiory exectuion on the steps of the courthouse in which you failed to turn over the information.

I'm sure we'd only have to shoot 2 or 3 cops and 4-5 da' before it MIGHT sink in we are DEAD SERIOUS about this!

Anonymous said...

Is it safe to assume that there has been a retro-analysis of all cases handled by the Prosecutor-in-question for Brady Violations?

Is it safe to assume that there has been a retro-analysis of all cases where the forensic analyst-in-question provided a lab report and testimony? For how many past cases would she now recant her testimony?

Is it safe to assume that there has been a retro-analysis of all cases handled by other analysts she trained?

I'll safely assume -- no.

The Homeless Cowboy said...

I for one applaud Mr. Watkins, I committed a crime in 1971 and I did the time. (10 yrs TDC) I never had a problem with the DA because I was guilty. I salute your honest attempt at holding people responsible in a legitimate manner. Texas could use a few more people in the legal system who really care that a person is guilty and not just convenient.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Dear Mr. Miles, congratulations! On behalf of the taxpayers & voters of Texas, please accept our deepest apologies for allowing police & prosecuctorial misconduct to run rampant.

Please consider telling the media storm to come that you are mad as hell at those that failed to properly defend you at trial, those that withheld evidence, those that enabled it & those that just went along with it.

If we continue to say we hold no ill feelings and forgive everyone, the voters & taxpayers will never understand what role they play in each & every false arrest and subsequent wrongful conviction. Simply paying into a Fund that pays for misconduct without attempting to eradicate it is wrong. We must be taught a lesson in order to prevent history from constantly repeating itself.

I challenge you to invest 75% of your time in your self, family & love-ones. With 25% going towards educating the public about your personal experience. Your personal time & family time will keep you safely grounded while the other will help you heal.

In closing, we'll keep you in our thoughts & prayers & look forward to your full recovery. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

The DA that Mike told the truth about was Patricia Hogue. I commend him for "outing" her unethical hide.. As for Bradley, he hired a Dallas DA that was fired for brady violations (and he knew that when he hired him). Cu-Ray-Zee!

Anonymous said...

A. The hand washings were performed by the detective AFTER Richard Miles had been handcuffed and placed in the back of the police car. Found on his palms (and not on the back of his hands), the GSR was no doubt a secondary transfer from the car seat (left there by a previous gun shooter). A real scientist would have tested the car seat for GSR, too. (Officers take note. This is a good way to plant evidence on your perp!)

B. The 1995 SWIFS report should have stated "negative" for GSR, as the levels were below SWIFS standards. The analyst disregarded protocols. Advances in the science surrounding GSR detection can't be used as an excuse for recanted testimony.

C. The analyst should have never spoken of the hands of the suspect, because the analyst did not take the washing from the hands. She should have only testified to the scientific results.

This is such shoddy forensics. No wonder Dallas has so many exonerations.