Quite a while ago, a Texas man was accused of the 1998 killing of a female college student. Subsequently, the man was convicted of the crime based on circumstantial evidence. He is now on death row, but still fighting for his freedom. He and his attorney have pleaded with the court to allow them to perform DNA testing on any crime scene evidence that could prove his innocence.
In spite of this effort at criminal defense, the court denied the request in 2010. The ruling was based on an interpretation of a Texas law dealing with a motion for DNA testing. In response to the court’s reading of the law — Chapter 64 in this particular instance — the Texas legislature made its intent behind the statute clearer in a 2011 re-writing of the law. From that point going forward, any potential defendant would likely have a different holding from a court that the one this Texas man received in 2010, given the later clarification made to the rule.
Texas statute 64 involves a convicted individuals’ right to move for DNA testing on certain evidence. At this point in time, it is not clear if the court would consider the legislative clarification on the rule to apply retroactively. The man has recently petitioned the court again for a ruling on his 64 motion. If the court denies his request, it could mean that the man’s case, which inspired the very change to the law in the first place, would not benefit from the alteration to Chapter 64.
Wrongful conviction is a serious event. When the consequence to the conviction is death, identifying the correct defendant is a matter of an individual’s life. While it seems the Texas legislature is moving toward creating more fairness in the state’s criminal justice system, the court may need to catch up.
Source: The Houston Chronicle, “Will Texas put an innocent man to death,” Jan. 29, 2013