Exonerated ex-convicts band together in Texas

(CBS News) It is an all-too-familiar story in this country: in Dallas, two men who spent more than a quarter of a century in prison for a rape they didn't commit were formally exonerated Monday after DNA testing implicated two other men.

With James Curtis Williams and Raymond Jackson, Dallas County has now cleared 32 convicts in the past decade.

CBS News correspondent Mark Strassman reports this is such a common occurrence, the wrongly convicted in Texas have joined forces to help one another.

At one parade in Lancaster, Texas, six convicted felons were hailed as heroes. All had spent years behind bars for crimes they did not commit.

"We're just blessed to have this opportunity here riding around and enjoying our freedom again," said Christopher Scott.

Scott was arrested in 1997 for murdering a man in his neighborhood. A witness identified him as the gunman, but Scott insisted he was innocent. He said he knew he was in trouble "when they found me guilty."

He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

"I thought everyone who went to prison was guilty, and when you see the tables turned on you and you be put in a position like that and you're in prison for something you didn't do, it changes your whole way of thinking," Scott said.

Thirteen years passed before the real killer confessed. Scott was cleared and released in 2009.

Once out, he got help from other men wrongfully imprisoned in Dallas County. They call themselves the Texas Exoneree Project.

"We have a lot of people say: 'Man we know how you feel.' Man, you don't know how I feel. The only person that know how I feel is the guy that has been in position like me. He know how that feel,'" Scott said.

It's a growing fraternity. In the last ten years, more than 30 men in Dallas County have been freed or cleared of wrongful convictions for murder and rape - more than any other place in the country.

The Exonerees help newly released men rebuild their lives by finding them a place to live or helping them get a drivers license.

They have also become a voice for other Texans they say are still wrongfully imprisoned.

"You wish you can help get everybody get out of prison that don't supposed to be there, but you know you are not going to be able to do it," Scott said.

The Dallas District Attorney's office says it's reviewing 200 cases of inmates who could be innocent.

"You obligated to try, to at least help somebody that's in your position, that they say they are crying out for help. Because many days I cried out for help and wasn't nobody out there for me," Scott said.

Texas paid Scott more than $1 million to compensate him for false imprisonment. He used some of that money to open a men's clothing store.

"Sometime when I get up I still pinch myself to see if it's really true or not," Scott said. "No kidding."

Scott once dreamed of freedom, but now he wants justice.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.