The Texas criminal justice system’s flaws lead to wrongful imprisonment and unfair prosecution, said a former attorney and two men exonerated from a capital murder conviction in a talk Tuesday.
The Actual Innocence Clinic at the UT School of Law worked with the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law to bring Dorothy Budd and exonerated prisoner Christopher Scott to speak about Budd’s book, “Tested: How Twelve Wrongly Imprisoned Men Held Onto Hope.”
Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins investigated crimes in which prisoners claimed wrongful conviction, and his research spurred Budd, a former Dallas prosecutor, to write the book with her daughter, Peyton Budd.
“I wasn’t expecting these cases with these incredible legal twists and turns,” Budd said. “Even assuming that everybody is acting in good faith and trying to do the best they can, it’s amazing that these cases went all the way through the legal system.”
The talk focused on the capital murder charge that Scott and co-defendant Claude Simmons Jr. fought to overturn for 12 years.
In April 1997, Scott and Simmons were driving back to Simmons’ house when they were followed by a police officer who responded to a call of a nearby murder.
Because they fit the police profile, the officer took Simmons and Scott into custody for a lineup, Scott said. He said when the widow of the murder victim came to the police station, the officer pointed to Scott and told her that he had murdered her husband, causing her to positively identify him as the perpetrator.
“At the time, I didn’t even know what was going on,” Scott said. “They wouldn’t even tell me what I was there for.”
Police arrested Scott and set a $750,000 bail that night. Police arrested Simmons weeks later. Both were denied lie detector tests, and although all other incriminating tests came back negative, both were imprisoned for 12 years, Scott said.
“To me, they just wanted to close the case,” Scott said.
During his sentence, the clinic and University of Texas at Arlington students approached Scott and Simmons about their cases.
After conducting thorough research, the group was able to conduct lie detector tests for both defendants. The exoneration process began once Scott and Simmons passed the tests. The men were released in October 2009. In 2009, the state exonerated 24 wrongfully convicted men.
The talk touched repeatedly on the inadequate justice system, which UT law student Sam McDowell said sometimes allows innocent men to serve lengthy prison terms.
“I think there are a ton of problems with the criminal system as it is,” McDowell said. “Texas has a terrible public defender system.”