3 to be declared innocent in 1994 Dallas robbery - Houston Chroniclewww.chron.com
Saturday, April 07, 2012
3 to be declared innocent in 1994 Dallas robbery
DALLAS (AP) — Three men convicted in the robbery of an elderly woman nearly 20 years ago will be declared innocent Friday, though two of the men also convicted of other crimes won't immediately go free, according to prosecutors and the Innocence Project of Texas.
Five people were originally implicated in the November 1994 purse-snatching in Dallas by an eyewitness who saw the robbery take place. But four other people would later come forward to admit they had committed the robbery, and attorneys successfully argued that the eyewitness' initial identification was faulty.
One of the people wrongfully accused, Darryl Washington, had been convicted and sentenced to 99 years in prison for the incident. The two other adults, Shakara Robertson and Marcus Lashun Smith, reached plea deals and received probation. The two remaining people wrongfully implicated were juveniles.
Washington, Robertson and Smith are expected to appear Friday morning before Judge Lena Levario in state district court to be formally declared innocent. It will be the first time Dallas County — which has overturned wrongful convictions against more than 20 people in the last decade — will exonerate three people of one crime at once.
But while Smith is out of jail, Washington and Robertson are not. Washington is also serving a 20-year sentence on separate drug charges, said Gary Udashen, president of the Innocence Project of Texas. Udashen said Washington should be released from prison soon, as it's likely he would have been paroled already on the drugs conviction had it not been for the burglary charge.
Robertson is serving a three-year sentence for failing to comply with sex offender restrictions in 2011, which stems from a conviction five years earlier for indecency with a child, according to online records.
A former University of Houston law student led the push to overturn the three men's convictions. Tracey Cobb began looking into Washington's case a decade ago. She graduated, became a lawyer and continued to pursue the case. Years after she started, Cobb found someone who confessed to having robbed the woman, she said Thursday.
Cobb eventually located four people who admitted — both to her and to Dallas County prosecutors — that they had committed the crime, she said. The fifth person had already died, she said.
Meanwhile, attorneys argued that the eyewitness who allegedly saw Washington, Robertson, Smith and the two juveniles was wrong. Udashen said police detained the group of five and asked the witness if they had been the ones to do the robbery.
"If you pulled five black guys at random and brought them in front of the witness under these circumstances, they probably would have said they did it," he said.
At a court hearing last month, the four men who were later identified confessed to their involvement. Levario said she found all the witnesses to be credible, according to a transcript of the hearing.
Washington, Robertson and Smith could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Prosecutors are not opposing the request to have the three declared formally innocent. Russell Wilson, who heads the Dallas County District Attorney's conviction integrity unit, which investigates wrongful convictions, said the case began to "fall in place" as the actual robbers came forward.
"Normally, you're going to be very skeptical of folks acknowledging crimes and stuff like that. It's just a rare, rare instance that it would happen," Wilson said Thursday. "It began to ring very true, the more that we dug into it."
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