Skip navigation.
The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Tale of Two Cities: Applying Sense to Guilt, Innocence

What starkly different headlines. The day after the Supreme Court ruled last week that death by lethal injection doesn’t constitute cruel and unusual punishment, two stories ran in the Houston Chronicle: “DNA frees Dallas man wrongly imprisoned for rape” and “Harris County gets ready to execute 6 killers.”

That pretty well sums up the vastly different approach taken by Texas’s two largest district attorney offices, and sadly, that won’t change any time soon.

Regardless of where you line up when it comes to crime and punishment, almost everyone can agree that we should be doing everything possible to keep from imprisoning and executing innocent people.

Notice I said almost everyone. While repeatedly stating, “I’m blessed,” his automatic response when asked how he was doing, former Harris County D.A. Chuck Rosenthal apparently forgot that some weren’t similarly situated.

Dallas County and Harris County may be separated by more than 200 miles but not so very long ago, they were very similar when it came to crime and punishment. Both had a well documented hang ’em high mantra and were darn proud of it.

That changed in 2007 after Craig Watkins, a Democrat, became Dallas County’s first African American D.A. He had campaigned on a pledge of changing the office’s approach and promised a review of questionable cases. He allowed the nationally acclaimed Innocence Project open access and, in just the last two years, six previously convicted individuals have been exonerated.

Meanwhile, back in Harris County, nothing has changed. Rosenthal is gone, but interim D.A. Ken Magidson has no plans to institute an Innocence Project; his spokesman says Magidson believes his tenure is too short (he’ll relinquish the post when the new D.A. takes over in January 2009) and he’ll leave it to his successor.

That’s disappointing. While it may sound blasphemous to some, if ever there were a time for Harris County to try to be more like Dallas, this is it. And Magidson would be the perfect individual for the task.

Obviously, whether Democrat Clarence Bradford or Republican Pat Lykos is our next D.A., we have to hope the Innocence Project will have open access. But regardless, there will be allegations of politics being played and who knows what else. Craig Watkins has certainly not been without his critics.

Ken Magidson could get everything started in a much cleaner fashion. His reputation as a rather non-political straight shooter earned him the unenviable gubernatorial appointment to begin with. Since he’ll be gone in just over eight months, it would be very difficult for anyone to accuse him of playing politics or engaging in any type of self promotion.

Admirably, he seems like the type that wants to stay as far below the radar screen as humanly possible. And yes, an Innocence Project could easily result in him being forced very far out in public view. But when he was sworn in, Magidson said that he wanted “fairness in the pursuit of justice.” What could be any less fair than letting innocent people sit in prison?

The Dallas man released last week said, “I’ve been living a life of a living hell and my nightmare is finally over with.”

If he had been unfortunate enough to be from Harris County, he would still be dreaming.

(Originally published by Examiner Newspaper Group)

Syndicate content