The Innocence Project of Texas is a nonprofit organization that works to overturn wrongful convictions and secure the release of individuals imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. It also raises public awareness about the effects of wrongful convictions.
Currently investigating more than 1,500 cases, the organization receives more than 150 letters a week requesting assistance. Notable cases include the exonerations of Timothy Cole, James Woodard and Patrick Waller. Following his exoneration, Waller sued Jeff Blackburn, the group's chief counsel, claiming that Blackburn was requesting too large a portion of the $1.3 million in compensation he was awarded by the state.
Through volunteer law students, lawyers, private investigators, paralegals and others, the Innocence Project created a Statewide DNA Case Review Program, funded by the Texas Bar Foundation. It allows the Innocence Project to evaluate and investigate requests for assistance in cases where innocence may be proven through the testing of biological evidence, such as DNA. It also works with The Conviction Integrity Unit of Dallas County to investigate requests to test previously untested DNA.
Additionally, the group launched a campaign against "junk science," what it calls fraudulent and inaccurate scientific evidence used to secure convictions in Texas. The so-called “junk” methods include false autopsies, inaccurate evaluation of hair and fiber evidence, dog scent lineups and certain arson investigation techniques. The arson investigation techniques used to convict Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texas man accused of murdering his three children by setting fire to his home, are among the scientific processes the group criticizes. Willingham maintained his innocence while incarcerated, and he was executed in 2004. In 2006, the Innocence Project presented evidence to the Texas Forensic Science Commision, calling into question the techniques used to convict Willingham, arguing that methods used have since been discredited. After much stalling, the commission briefly discussed the investigation on April 23, 2010, and is currently reviewing the issue.
In 2007, the Innocence Project began investigating the case of Timothy Cole, a man who died in prison while serving a 25-year sentence for rape. In 2009, attorneys with the Innocence Project argued for Cole in front of Judge Charlie Baird of the 299th district court in Austin and successfully secured his exoneration, the first posthumous exoneration issued in Texas. On March 1, 2010, Gov. Rick Perry pardoned Cole, granting the first posthumous pardon in Texas.
The Texas Innocence Project is also a member of The Innocence Network, an international affiliation of organizations that provide aid to individuals working to overturn wrongful convictions.
Texas has issued the most DNA exonerations of any state in the nation.
Number of DNA exonerations: 40
Number of non-DNA exonerations: unknown
Average number of years incarcerated*: 13.5
Number of DNA exonerations prior to 2001: 7
Number of DNA exonerations since 2001: 33
(In 2001, Texas enacted a post-conviction DNA access law — Chapter 64 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure — which streamlined the process for defendants to request DNA testing in order to prove their innocence.)
Leading cause of wrongful convictions: flawed eyewitness identifications
Percentage of cases involving an eyewitness ID error*: 80 percent
*Statistic based on Texas’s first 40 DNA exonerations
Texas DNA Exonerations by County:
Collin County: 1
Dallas County: 20
Ellis County: 1
El Paso County: 1
Harris County: 6
Lubbock County: 1
McLennan County: 1
Montgomery County: 2
Smith County: 1
Tarrant County: 1
Travis County: 4
Uvalde County: 1
Texas DNA Exonerations by Year:
1994: Gilbert Alejandro
1997: Kevin Byrd, Ben Salazar
2000: A.B. Butler, Roy Criner, Carlos Lavernia, Anthony Robinson
2001: David Shawn Pope, Calvin Washington, Mark Webb
2002: Richard Danziger, Christopher Ochoa, Victor Thomas
2003: Wiley Fountain
2004: Donald Wayne Good, Josiah Sutton
2005: Entre Nax Karage, Brandon Moon, George Rodriguez, Keith Turner
2006: Eugene Henton, Billy Miller, Arthur Mumphrey, Billy Smith
2007: Larry Fuller, James Giles, Andrew Gossett, James Waller, Greg Wallis
2008: Michael Blair, Charles Chatman, Thomas McGowan, Steven Phillips, Ronald Taylor, Patrick Waller
2009: Timothy Cole, Jerry Evans, Johnnie Lindsey, Ricardo Rachell, James Woodard
Source: Innocence Project of Texas