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Exoneree James Woodard Dies In Jail Following Seizure

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - James Woodard's name resonates with any exoneree in North Texas.  He was one, and spent the last several years helping others.

Woodard, 60, was the 17th Dallas County Inmate freed by DNA testing.

He was serving a life sentence for the murder of Beverly Jones.

After serving 27 years behind bars for the murder conviction he walked out of court a free man in April of 2008.

"It's a good day! April 29th, 2008, I never forget it," he said walking out of a Dallas courtroom that day.

Woodard was back in jail in late August after being arrested.

After responding to a traffic accident, Carrollton police arrested him for several outstanding warrants.
Investigators say after searching him they found cocaine.

Over the past weekend Woodard, who suffered from seizures, was rushed from the Dallas County Jail to Parkland Hospital, where he died.

Those close to him want to know what happened.  "It's a loss that we can't get back and will definitely miss him," says Cory Session, the Policy Director for the Innocence Project of Texas.

Session was close to Woodard and say the exoneree donated $100,000 to the non-profit so it could keep working on freeing more innocent men.

"He is directly responsible for the eyewitness ID law that Texas now has that requires all police agencies to have an eyewitness ID procedure in place," says Session "He was directly responsible for health insurance that wrongful convicted persons now have."

Session also says because of Woodard those wrongfully convicted who are awarded money by the state won't be taxed by the federal government.

He recalls going to Washington with Woodard, "We met with general council of the Internal Revenue Service.  While we were in his office, James Woodard had a seizure and that was clear and convincing evidence that people who were wrongfully convicted do suffer traumatic events."

Session says Woodard's legacy will forever be remembered.  "The impact that he left will overshadow anything in his life."

Dallas County Jail spokesperson Carmen Castro said in an email, "An investigation into the custodial death of Mr. Woodard is open. We await results until we have the facts for Sheriff Lupe Valdez."

CBS 11 wanted to with to Sheriff Valdez about Woodard's death, but a spokesperson says she's recovering at the hospital from back pain.

An autopsy for Woodard is scheduled for Wednesday.  Funeral arrangements are still pending.

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