DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - The Innocence Project of Texas has become famous because of their association with DNA exonerations in the state. To hear of another case of wrongful conviction unfortunately isn't rare, but to learn the project actually located the guilty parties is.
There are now 30 Dallas County men who have heard a judge say, "That all of the applicants are actually innocent." Those were the words of Judge Lena Levario on Friday as she declared Shakara Robertson, Marcus Smith and Darryl Washington innocent.
The three men were victims of a bad eyewitness identification and wrongfully convicted of a 1994 purse snatching near Inwood Village in Dallas.
The men who were really behind the crime were tracked down and all admitted guilt. Attorney Gary Udashen, with the Innocence Project, credits the exonerations to a now Houston attorney who began researching the case as a law student.
"She was able to locate the people who really did this and convince them to admit doing it, and sign affidavits, and come forward," explained Udashen.
Udashen said getting exonerations in the case was particularly tough because there was no DNA to help prove innocence.
"DNA cases, as difficult as they are, are nowhere near as difficult to prove innocence when you're dealing with a case where there's not DNA."
Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins says while the true perpetrators, Jeremy DeGray, Marcus McCallahan, Kendrick Bright, Christopher Love and William Jackson, have all confessed his office cannot pursue them because the statute of limitations has run out.
"Which doesn't allow us to pursue prosecutions on certain cases after so many years," said Watkins. "And the individuals that actually committed this crime will never be punished for it."
In order to avoid jail time Smith and Robertson both pled guilty and received probation. But Washington believed in the system. He declared his innocence, went to trial, was convicted and sentenced to 99 years in prison.
Smith told the court that the conviction has had a tremendous impact on his life. "I've been affected 18 years. I've got six children," he said. "It's rough for me to provide for them because of this conviction. It's looked down upon as shameful and it should be to anybody who did it."
While Robertson, Smith and Washington were punished three real robbers continued a crime spree.
"They actually have histories that… criminal histories that happened after these individuals were wrongfully convicted," Udashen said. "They should have been in prison on this offense 15 years ago and it may have stopped them from committing some of these other offenses."
Before leaving the courtroom Smith said the day's events were a lot to take in. "To me it's been, ya know, a whirlwind. It's all new and I haven't processed anything. I'm just happy and thankful, and I'm grateful for the work that has been put in."
Reflecting on the confessions of the three innocent men Watkins said the case further bolsters his contention that all police interrogations should be videotaped.
"The argument, in the past, is that it would be too expensive," said Watkins." "But with our technology now you can record an interrogation with your phone."
Dallas County has now exonerated 30 people since 2001, with most of those happening since Watkins became DA in 2007.
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