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Are prosecutors trying to keep innocent man on death row? Part II

Earlier this week, we began a discussion about a man convicted of triple homicide who has been fighting for more than a decade just to have the evidence in his case retested. While this incident did not occur in Wisconsin, it speaks to the importance of Wisconsin's efforts to update and expand its criminal DNA database.

Some important pieces of evidence in the case (including murder weapons and various hair samples) have never been DNA tested. Since 2001, the defendant has been fighting to clear his name by requesting DNA tests of the evidence, but Texas prosecutors have fought equally hard to make sure his request goes unfulfilled.

The man has been on death row for years and has come frighteningly close to being executed on two different occasions while awaiting the chance to prove his innocence. In one instance, he was just 47 minutes from being lethally injected before an intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court spared him.

Thankfully, his case has gained national attention and progress in court because of the advocacy of a group of journalism students who have studied the case files and conducted their own interviews.

Late last month, the case went before the Texas Supreme Court, which issued an ultimatum to prosecutors and the District Attorney: either they do the testing voluntarily or the Court will require it. Thankfully, the message was received and the DNA testing will soon go forward.

At least two of the justices had harsh words for the prosecutors. One chided: "If you had tested this 10 years ago, you would have had results 10 years ago." Another judge added: "Prosecutors should be testing everything . . .You ought to be absolutely sure before you strap a person down and kill them."

Since the testing has not been completed, it should be noted that the defendant may have, in fact, committed the murders. However, if prosecutors truly felt confident about his guilt, wouldn't it have been easier, cheaper and more productive to let the DNA testing commence 10 years ago?

Our criminal justice system cannot survive without the tireless search for truth, even if some mistakes take decades to correct. Every wrongfully convicted person represents a perversion of justice that threatens the freedom of all Americans.

Source: Huffington Post, "Texas Finally Agrees to DNA Testing for Condemned Man. What Took So Long?" David Protess, June 4, 2012

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