First-of-its-kind Exoneration Expected in Dallas

Michael Phillips, an African American man falsely convicted of sexual assault, told everyone he was innocent, but after his attorney advised that he would be better off pleading guilty than risking conviction at trial, and after he then served out his 12-year prison term, he never thought his name would be cleared. However, on July 25, 2014, at 9 a.m. Mr. Phillips, 57, in a wheel chair due to sickle cell anemia, is expected to be exonerated in Criminal District Court 3 at the Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas, Texas.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins’ ongoing initiative to review untested rape kits revealed that Michael Phillips was innocent. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, this is the first time in the United States an exoneration of this nature has occurred…as a result of a district attorney’s systematic testing without active request by a defendant.

Mr. Phillips pled guilty to the 1990 rape of a 16-year-old Caucasian girl at a Dallas motel where they both lived. The victim identified him from a photo lineup. He knew that the odds were not good for an African American in this situation, and he took the advice of his attorney to plead guilty.

After Phillips served his sentence and was released from prison in 2002, he was returned to jail for six months when he failed to register as a sex offender. He has had difficulty finding a place to live and getting a job. Currently, he is living in a nursing home.

In spite of the incredible hardship suffered by Mr. Phillips, he thanks God for sustaining him in prison to see this day. Oddly enough, in some ways he is a lucky man.

“Mr. Phillips is very lucky that we tested rape kits from the year in which the heinous crime took place,” said District Attorney Watkins.

DNA analysis of the semen from the rape kit was put into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, which identified Lee Marvin Banks as the perpetrator. Banks lived at the same motel at the time of the rape.

According to an article in USA Today here, Mr. Banks will not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has run out. Watkins indicated that his criminal record will include a notation that his DNA matched the crime evidence in this case.

Mr. Phillips is also fortunate that Southwest Institute of Forensic Sciences preserved the biological evidence from his case.

And he was lucky to have the assistance of Samuel Gross, Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School and Editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, and Professor Colin Starger of the University of Baltimore School of Law. Both worked pro bono under the supervision of the Dallas County Conviction Integrity Unit to test the untested sexual assault evidence.

District Attorney Craig Watkins’ initiative to systematically test rape kits from a period in which neither crime scene evidence nor a defendant’s DNA were automatically tested has prompted what will be the 34th exoneration that has resulted from the work of his Conviction Integrity Unit.

As Mr. Watkins noted, “…this was a methodical approach that can be replicated nationwide. Untested rape kits should not just sit on a shelf and collect dust.”

Mr. Watkins’s suggestion is clear. District attorneys throughout the nation are best positioned to lead the charge in correcting and preventing miscarriages of justice.

On July 25, 2014, Mr. Phillips will finally experience a long-awaited day in court. Our nation should be grateful for those who contributed to this important correction, and especially for the leadership of Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins.

Read the complete report which details this case and the Dallas County District Attorney’s project here.




15 responses to “First-of-its-kind Exoneration Expected in Dallas

  1. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!

  2. What do you do if someone was convicted and there was no DNA at all, just a he said / she said thing?? Defense attorney, DA, and Judge wouldn’t try to get /allow testimony that showed someone else could have committed the crime!!!

  3. This is an amazing feel-good story!

  4. DA Craig Watkins continues to lead the way. Amazing news.

  5. maybe this case will start a trend of prosecutorial integrity. up to now I believed the term to be an oxymoron.

  6. Regarding this line – “He knew that the odds were not good for an African American in this situation, and he took the advice of his attorney to plead guilty.”

    Mrs. Petro, I’m curious if this is your words, Mr. Phillips or, his lawyer’s?

    Since the article is devoid of names of key players, do you know where we can obtain the following? –

    Presiding Judge & court room –

    D.A. of Record –

    ADA of Record –

    Defense Team –

    Arresting Officers –

    Detectives –

    Exhibit’s Clerk –

    Court Reporter

    * Those reading this, that are curious as to why someone would give a crap about the names of those shown to be documented as being tied to this wrongful conviction via unnecessary Plea Bargain aka: The Texas TapOut, –

    The only way to properly vett a claim of false arrest that was allowed to morph into a wrongful conviction is to first – gather all of the names involved. Once you have compiled a listing you can begin the endeavor of searching for patterns involving other cases and wrongs. Due to everyone celebrating Plea Bargains as wins, I’m willing to bet there are more victims related to this (Rigged) system. Thanks.

    • Mr. Griffith, direct quotes from Mr. Phillips and the article in U.S.A. Today were the source of my summary of his feelings. For example the article says, “Phillips feared a jury would take the word of a white woman over a black man.” The article later says, “Phillips says his public defender told him he could be sentenced to as much as 99 years in prison…” Phillips was quoted as saying “In 1990, it felt like slavery was still going strong for me…The deck was stacked against me from Jump Street — like 100-to-1.”

      A similar description of the case and commentary from the District Attorney are all consistent. Some of the people involved in this case are mentioned in this most recent article (see link). The other players are likely available with some research.

  7. Pingback: A First of its Kind Exoneration | The National Center for Reason and Justice

  8. Pingback: A First of its Kind Exoneration | Friends of Justice

  9. I’m curious about convictions of this crime that have no DNA evidence at all? What if someone was convicted on a he said/she said evidence? What if the Defense Attorney, DA, and Judge didn’t try to get/ allow evidence that someone else could have made marks to support theory that a crime was committed? Do these convictions stand just because there is no DNA for innocence projects to check?

  10. Before we get all feel-goody about Watkins, let’s do the math. Michael Phillips was release from prison 12 years ago. In the eyes of the State of Texas, he is a convict. He is guilty. He’s already done his time.

    Then why would the crime lab perform DNA testing for this case?

    In a Dallas Morning News article from June 2012 (“Missed deadline on rape-kit audits renews debate”), regarding the financial cost associated with testing the huge backlog of untested rape kits within the Dallas County Crime Lab, chief of physical evidence for the crime lab Dr. Timothy Sliter asked “Would you want to devote money to test those cases when it’s not going to lead to a judicial conclusion?”

    Mr. Philips’ guilt was already a foregone judicial conclusion.

    So again, why would the crime lab perform DNA testing for this case? Why waste taxpayer money to perform DNA testing on a rape kit for which the convict has already been released?

    Because the crime lab is notorious for rampant DNA contamination, cross-contamination, and analyst-contamination. They’re notorious for uploading (illegally) incomplete DNA profiles into CODIS. They’re notorious for failing to report non-compliance to state and federal agencies.

    They’re being audited for past shoddy work, and serendipitously discovered Mr. Bank’s DNA, not Mr. Philip’s DNA within this rape kit.

    This is why the crime lab was performing DNA testing for this case. This is (one reason) why Dallas County has the highest number of exonerations in the U.S.

    And this is how District Attorney Craig Watkins spins a news story away from the incompetency and sloppiness of his crime lab toward self-promotion and righteousness.

    • In Mr. Phillips case, the real rapist was identified and an entry will be made on the actual offender’s criminal history defined in the DNA Supported Suspected Offender File statute. It also appears that David C has cut and pasted comments from the Grits For Breakfast Blog ,posted on July 28. Jumping to conclusions can result in leaping over the facts.

    • So that the real perpetrator is known. To protect us. To seek truth and justice.

  11. Yes, Ruth. Convictions generally stand unless DNA can be tested or new evidence of innocence is discovered that meets qualifications to be considered truly new evidence and not redundant to existing evidence. Our system values finality and barriers to revisiting convictions are significant. As is clear in many exonerations, the appeal process is ineffective in identifying and correcting wrongful convictions.

    • We have investigated wrongful convictions cases other than DNA, including the false confession case of Stephen Brodie. He was exonerated and we successfully prosecuted the real perpetrator, Robert Warterfield, the ‘North Dallas Molester”

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