Sunday, October 14, 2007

14 years because of police incompetence

Incompetent police work put this guy in prison for 14 years until Project Innocence finially got him released.
Instead of going directly to his mother's kitchen for the home cooking he'd been denied while serving 14 years for a rape he didn't commit, Ronald Gene Taylor's first order of business after getting out of prison Tuesday was to confront the mayor at City Hall.

"I think there is a lot of people who have the same problem I had," he told the standing room only crowd in the City Council chamber. "There are a lot of people who can't get help because they don't have the finances. Something needs to be done."

Recent DNA testing on the rape victim's bed sheet revealed that another man with a history of sexual violence committed the crime.

Taylor had emerged from the Harris County Jail an hour earlier in clothes purchased the night before and with his only belongings — a Bible, court documents and toiletries — in a mesh sack.

He embraced his family, who had traveled from Huntsville to greet him, thanked his lawyers and went directly to City Hall to speak about his ordeal, caused by the faulty work of the Houston Police Department's troubled crime lab.

Mayor Bill White and City Council members attentively listened to Taylor's plea. Some offered apologies and vowed to devise a plan to quickly review 180 newly identified cases with crime lab evidence similar to Taylor's. But they stopped short of proposing a concrete plan for reviewing the cases or committing resources for the effort.

"If (speaking to the council) is going to help even one person, it's worth it," Taylor said as he left City Hall.

Lawyers from the Innocence Project, a legal clinic that works to free the wrongfully convicted, secured Taylor's release Tuesday morning during a brief hearing. State District Judge Denise Collins ordered him released on a personal recognizance bond.

During the proceedings, to which Taylor wore an orange inmate's uniform, his lawyers spoke of the significance of his case in the context of the years-long scandal at the HPD crime lab.

"There are a legacy of cases where the Houston Police Department did faulty serology," said Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project.

Harris County's top prosecutor, Chuck Rosenthal, appeared in court and expressed regret for Taylor's years of wrongful incarceration.

"I would like to apologize to Mr. Taylor," Rosenthal said.

After a two-hour wait, while jail officials processed his release, Taylor walked outside a free man for the first time in 14 years.

"I always believed this was coming one day," Taylor said outside the jail. "I'm just glad to see my family. It ain't sunk in yet."


Eyewitness was wrong
Taylor was accused in the 1993 rape of a woman attacked while sleeping in her Third Ward home. The victim never got a good look at her attacker, Taylor's lawyers said, but police showed her a video lineup. The woman identified Taylor, whose image was included because a neighbor reported seeing him in the area that night, his lawyers said.

Taylor was charged in her attack and at trial, about two years later, the woman's testimony was the core of the evidence against him. An analyst from the HPD crime lab also testified, incorrectly telling jurors that DNA testing could not be performed on a bedsheet from the apartment because it contained no semen.

Jurors sentenced Taylor to 60 years, a crushing verdict for his mother, Dorothy Henderson.

"He was away for so long that I watched my five sisters and three brothers die while he was incarcerated," she said. "No parent should have to go through that."

Taylor's stepfather contacted the Innocence Project in 1998 and pleaded with the legal clinic to take his case. Twelve years after Taylor's conviction, Innocence Project lawyers arranged for a private lab to re-examine the evidence.

"I just knew that if I could get it tested, it would be over," Taylor said.

The lab, ReliaGene Technologies in New Orleans, found semen on the sheet, discrediting HPD's work on the case. A DNA analysis of the fabric revealed the profile of another man — Roosevelt Carroll — and no evidence from Taylor.

Both men had short-cropped hair and 6-foot frames. They both also lived within a mile of the victim's home.


Suspect in jail

Unlike Taylor, who had been convicted and released on nonviolent crimes of forgery and cocaine possession, Carroll had a history of violent sexual crimes.

A twice-convicted rapist, Carroll is serving a 15-year sentence for failing to register as a sex offender.

Carroll cannot be prosecuted for the 1993 case because the deadline for a grand jury to indict him has passed.

Although Carroll was free for much of the time Taylor was imprisoned, Taylor said he is not angry.

"I don't have grudges," he said. "What good would that do me?"

While Taylor is free, the case against him has not yet been officially resolved. Judge Collins must forward documents that detail the case's history, submitted by prosecutors and Taylor's lawyers on Tuesday, to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

That court will taken final action on the case, but those steps can take time.


Some long waits

Men recently exonerated of crimes in Harris County — including Josiah Sutton and George Rodriguez, who were convicted on faulty evidence from the HPD crime lab — have waited more than a year for their cases to clear the legal labyrinth. Taylor's case may move faster, however, because prosecutors and his lawyers agreed he is innocent.

Assuming that Taylor eventually receives a pardon based on his innocence and does not pursue a lawsuit, he could receive $50,000 from the state for each year he was incarcerated, or as much as $700,000.

Taylor's first priority is to begin rebuilding his life. He planned to spend some time with his family in Huntsville and then, as soon as possible, say goodbye to Texas.

Taylor said he plans to settle in Atlanta with the fiancee who waited 14 years for him and whom Taylor hopes to soon make his wife.

Jeannette Brown, a nursing assistant and student in Atlanta, could not make the trip to Houston for Taylor's release but is hoping for a reunion as soon as possible.

"Now that he is out and they all know he is innocent, the rest will come," she said. "It's hard to be patient, but I will."


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1 Comments:

Blogger Major Bob said...

The "Innocence Project" has exonerated few, if any, convicts.

They have merely shown the presence of other DNA which, when taken out of context, appears to be exculpatory.

It is completely analagous to Rape Shield: Just because a woman has another man's DNA on her does not mean the rapist/murderer is innocent. The combination of physical evidence and circumstantial evidence creating the conviction is still firm. It does not rule out multiple assailants.

Innocence Project has merely set dozens of convicted criminals free on legal premises they would themselves likely reject if queried about rape.

11:57 AM  

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