When a special documentary series on some of America’s most blatant wrongful convictions and their subsequent exonerations opens next week on BET’s Centric Channel, Texas will be highlighted as having the third highest number of exonerations in the country.
As Dallas criminal attorneys we are saddened but not surprised by the statistic.
VINDICATED aired its first episode on December 4 at 9:30 p.m. Central Standard Time. It is hosted by Morris Chestnut. In a tried and tested format, it will use actors to recreate scenes while using interviews with friends and family members, police officers involved in the cases and the reporters who covered the stories at the time.
The series features a number of prominent miscarriages of justice in Texas including the case of Charles Chatman, who was exonerated in 2008, after serving 26 years in jail for a false rape conviction in Dallas. An episode on his life will be screened in January.
The New York Times reported on how Chatman was exonerated “thanks in large part to a crime laboratory that, unlike others in Texas, has preserved evidence going back as long as three decades.”
When he was released in early 2008 he was the 15th wrongfully convicted prisoner in Dallas County who was exonerated by DNA testing since 2001, the newspaper reported.
There have been more than 1,000 exonerations across the country of those who were falsely convicted since the 1980s, when legislation was brought in in a number of states allowing inmates to obtain DNA testing.
The Dallas Weekly reported Texas is among the “top three states with 87 exonerations, trailing Illinois’ 110 and New York’s 88. Dallas County has had 36 of Texas exonerations.”
On December 4 and 11 the show will feature Tim Cole, a military veteran and a Texas Tech University student who was wrongly convicted of raping a fellow student in 1985. While some of the inmates who were wrongly convicted get to see life outside a jail again, Cole was one of the unlucky ones. He died in 1999, after serving 14 years in prison, but was posthumously pardoned.
In the wake of the case the Texas Legislature passed legislation establishing the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions. The Advisory Panel was directed to provide advice on the preparation of a study regarding the causes of wrongful convictions and make recommendations to prevent future wrongful convictions.
A high number of wrongful convictions have come from the Dallas area. Recently we reported on the case of Ricky Dale Wyatt of Dallas, Texas, who was released from prison in January, 2012 after serving almost a third of a 99-year sentence for a rape he did not commit. Wyatt was incarcerated for 31 years.
Misidentification seems to be a particularly prevalent problem in sexual offenses and those involving younger witnesses. Almost 50 percent of child sexual assault claims are untrue in these complex cases.