innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Tenth Dallas Man to Be Exonerated

Tenth Dallas County Man in Just Five Years Is Proven Innocent

Through DNA Evidence; Larry Fuller Set To Be Released Today



25 years after wrongful conviction for rape, DNA proves Fuller’s innocence;

unprecedented number of cases in Dallas County ‘demands a closer look’



( DALLAS , TX ; October 31, 2006 ) – For the tenth time in five years, a Dallas County man who was wrongly convicted has been proven innocent through DNA testing, the Innocence Project said today. Based on eyewitness misidentification, Larry Fuller, 57, was convicted of aggravated rape in August 1981 and sentenced to 50 years in prison.



Tuesday afternoon, October 31, the Innocence Project will file legal papers to vacate Fuller’s conviction and release him from prison. Fuller will appear in court with Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck and Staff Attorney Vanessa Potkin at 1 p.m. Tuesday in front of Judge Lana McDaniel in 203rd Judicial District Court in Dallas ( Frank Crowley Courts Building , 7th Floor). The Innocence Project anticipates that Fuller will be released at the conclusion of the hearing. Fuller, Scheck, and Potkin – joined by several of the other nine men who have been proven innocent through DNA testing in Dallas County – will speak to reporters outside the courthouse following the hearing, along with Jeff Blackburn of the Innocence Project of Texas and local co-counsel Frank Jackson.



Including Fuller, 10 Dallas County men have been proven innocent through DNA testing since 2001 – a pattern that the Innocence Project said is both unprecedented and troubling. “Nowhere else in the nation have so many individual wrongful convictions been proven in one county in such a short span of time. It is clear today that there’s an alarming pattern of wrongful convictions in Dallas County , which demands a closer look through an independent investigation,” Scheck said.



The Innocence Project said today that the Dallas County District Attorney should order a full, independent review of the 10 recent cases where DNA has proven innocence, as well as other cases from the same timeframe. Of the 10 Dallas County convictions where DNA has recently proven innocence, nine are sexual assault-related cases; the convictions were between 1981 and 1994, with eight of the 10 in a five-year span in the mid-1980s. Several of the wrongful convictions involved eyewitness misidentification.



“ Texas needs a statewide mechanism to identify and address the causes of wrongful convictions, but Dallas County can’t wait for the state to act,” Scheck said. “When one plane crashes, the NTSB launches an immediate investigation to determine the cause and prevent it from happening again. These wrongful convictions in Dallas County are like a series of plane crashes at the same airport, in the same era, and they require immediate, serious action.” A review ordered by the District Attorney would help identify common patterns in the cases – such as eyewitness misidentification – and might identify additional cases where people may have been wrongly convicted, the Innocence Project said.



In Fuller’s case, eyewitness misidentification was the primary basis for wrongful conviction – as it is in 75 percent of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence nationwide. In April 1981, a Dallas woman woke up at 6 a.m. to find a black man with a knife on top of her. It was 45 minutes before sunrise on a foggy day, and the only light in the room (other than any light from outside before dawn) came from a digital alarm clock. The intruder cut the woman several times and raped her. Motile sperm were collected in a rape kit at the hospital shortly after the attack, but DNA testing was not available in 1981. Police showed the victim several photos at her home two days after the rape; although Fuller’s photo was among the six she was shown, the victim did not identify him. The investigating police officer issued a report recommending that the investigation be “suspended,” noting that the victim “was unsure of the suspect at this time.” The investigation continued, however – and police investigating the crime apparently remained focused on Fuller.



Several days later, police again showed the victim several photographs at her home to see whether she could identify her attacker. Fuller’s photo was the only one in the second photo array that was also in the first one. The victim was alarmed that Fuller had a full beard, since she had said her attacker did not have facial hair. Placing her fingers over the bottom part of the photo, to block half of Fuller’s face, she then positively identified him, and he was arrested. In August 1981, Fuller had a two-day trial – in which the prosecution said the victim had “never wavered” in identifying him. After deliberating for 35 minutes, the jury convicted him.



“Police focused on Larry Fuller almost immediately, and they continued to pursue him even though the victim was unable to identify him,” Potkin said. “For decades, scientific research has proven that the procedures which led the victim to misidentify Larry Fuller decrease the accuracy of identifications. This case – and the nine before it – begs the question of how many other innocent people have been convicted in Dallas County based on eyewitness misidentification or other factors.”



Fuller was 32 years old at the time of the rape, and he was raising two young children with his girlfriend. Years earlier, while attending Dallas Baptist College , he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served two tours of duty in Vietnam (while he was drafted for the first tour, he volunteered for the second). He was shot down several times in duty, and received the Air Medal. After being honorably discharged, he pursued an education in the arts while holding several jobs.



In the mid-1990s, Fuller wrote to the Innocence Project, which took his case. The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office initially opposed efforts to seek DNA testing in the case, which a court ultimately ordered. In 1999, Fuller was released on parole after 18 years in prison. Fuller’s parole was revoked in 2005 for a violation of his release conditions, and he was sent back to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence.



Not including Fuller (who will need to apply for a pardon from Texas ’s governor), 185 people in 32 states have been exonerated through DNA testing. The Innocence Project, affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, has provided direct representation or consultation in most of them. The Innocence Project of Texas has worked on several of the Dallas County cases.



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Dallas County Cases Where DNA Has Proven Innocence



In just the last five years, 10 men who were wrongly convicted have been proven innocent through DNA testing. Following are short descriptions of their cases.



1. David Shawn Pope

David Shawn Pope was convicted in 1986 of a 1985 aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to 45 years. He was pardoned in 2001 after spending 15 years in prison.



Background:

In the evening of July 24, 1985 , in Garland , Texas , an unknown man knocked on a woman’s door, asked for someone who did not live there, and left. At 6 a.m. the next morning, she woke up to a man standing over her bed with a knife, and she was raped. After her assault, the victim followed her attacker to the patio door and stood next to him. She described her rapist to the police as a young white male, around 5' 8" tall, 140 pounds, blond, slim, very tan, and wearing beige pants and no shirt. The victim was unable to identify Pope in a photographic lineup, but over a month later, she identified Pope in a live lineup. The victim also identified Pope in court as the man who raped her. The prosecution’s evidence also included a knife found in his car that resembled one stolen from the victim’s kitchen and used during the attack, and a “voice print analysis,” which was said to match Pope’s voice to messages left on the victim’s answering machine in the weeks after the crime. (Scientists have questioned the accuracy of voice print analysis, and it is no longer used in courts.) Pope maintained his innocence and testified on his own behalf in the punishment phase of his trial. He testified that he had lived in the same apartment complex as the victim until the month prior to the rape when he was evicted, and that during the month of the attack, he at times lived out of his car on the apartment complex’s grounds. In January 1999, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office received an anonymous call that supported Pope’s claim of innocence. The case was reopened and the rape kit was submitted to DNA testing, which excluded Pope as the perpetrator and matched a convicted rapist. Governor Rick Perry pardoned Pope on February 2, 2001 .





2. Wiley Fountain

Wiley Fountain was convicted in 1986 of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to 40 years in prison. Fountain was released on parole in February 2001, but his parole was revoked months later when he failed to find a job and pay fees as a registered sex offender. He was finally released from prison in 2002 after DNA excluded him from rape kit evidence, and he was fully pardoned by Governor Rick Perry in 2003.



Background:

A pregnant woman was grabbed from behind while walking to a bus stop in Dallas and raped at knifepoint. The perpetrator dragged the victim to a nearby driveway, raped her, and stole money from her. The victim told police that moments before she was accosted, she saw her attacker, whom she believed to be Fountain because she had recently seen him in her apartment complex. According to the victim, she and her attacker were face to face, just inches apart, at different points during the attack. She later gave police a description of her attacker, and an officer stopped Fountain (who was on parole at the time for a 1983 burglary conviction) a block from the victim’s apartment because he was wearing clothing that matched the description of the suspect. The victim later identified him in a photo lineup. Fountain asserted that he had been at home when the rape happened, and he had an alibi witness at trial. Testing of the biological evidence was inconclusive at that time. He was convicted in 1986 and sentenced to 40 years in prison. In 2002, with the urging of the Dallas County Public Defender’s Office, DNA testing was conducted on a vaginal swab and excluded Fountain as the perpetrator. After the DNA was submitted for testing twice more with the same results, Governor Rick Perry pardoned Fountain on March 18, 2003 .





3. Donald Wayne Good

Donald Wayne Good was convicted in 1984 of committing a 1983 rape and burglary. He was sentenced to life in prison. He was paroled in 1993, but his parole was revoked in 2002 (for a minor property crime); he is still serving a five-year sentence for the property crime. In 2004, DNA testing proved that Good could not have been the man who committed the 1983 crimes.

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Background:

A perpetrator broke into a Dallas County woman’s home, restrained her daughter in one room, then put a pillowcase over the victim’s head and raped her in a separate room. Both the daughter and mother identified Good. He was in police custody on unrelated charges when a police officer saw a resemblance with the composite sketch and included his photo in a photo array. Good’s first trial ended in a hung jury. At the second trial, in 1984, Good was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Good represented himself in an appeal and lost. Besides the identification, the prosecution also relied on serological testing of the victim’s clothing and a blanket, which matched Good as well as a significant percentage of the white male population. In 1993, Good was paroled and registered as a sex offender. In 2002, he was arrested for a minor property crime and had his parole revoked and his life sentence reinstated. He received a five-year sentence for the property crime. In 2003, Good’s motion requesting DNA testing was granted and the court ordered testing of the rape kit. In April 2004, DNA test results excluded Good as the perpetrator. In November, Good’s conviction was overturned. He remains in prison for the minor property crime charge and is expected to be released in May 2007.





4. Keith E. Turner

In 1983, Keith E. Turner was convicted of a 1982 aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to 20 years in prison, of which he served four years. Turner was exonerated and pardoned in 2005.



Background:

A rape victim in Dallas identified Turner as her assailant. She and Turner worked for different branches of the same company and came into contact when Turner was transferred. She identified him both visually and by his voice. Turner provided an alibi, but he was convicted in 1983 and spent four years in prison. He was out on parole when Governor Rick Perry pardoned him on December 22, 2005 , based on exculpatory DNA test results.





5. Entre Nax Karage

In 1997, Entre Nax Karage was convicted of committing a 1994 murder and sentenced to life in prison, of which he served seven years. He was exonerated and pardoned in December 2005.



Background:

In 1994, Karage’s 14-year-old girlfriend was murdered. Three years later, Karage was convicted of the crime by Judge Karen Greene in a non-jury trial. DNA testing at the time of the trial did not match Karage, but this was consistent with the prosecutors’ belief that Karage had found his girlfriend with another man and killed her in a jealous rage. Karage provided a written statement asserting his innocence, but he didn’t have a solid alibi. Also, some of his girlfriend’s blood was found in the trunk of Karage’s car. None of the prosecution’s evidence linked him to the scene of the crime. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Seven years later, authorities finally ran the DNA test through the federal database of convicted offenders and found a match to another man who was previously convicted of a similar crime. Karage was pardoned by Governor Rick Perry in 2005.





6. Eugene Ivory Henton

Eugene Ivory Henton was convicted of sexual assault in 1984 and sentenced to four years. He served 18 months in prison on that charge. DNA testing exculpated Henton in 2005.



Background:

Henton pleaded guilty to the sexual assault charge in exchange for a four-year sentence. He was paroled after 18 months and is now serving time for two unrelated convictions: a 42-year sentence for drug possession and a 20-year sentence for aggravated assault.





7. Gregory Wallis

Gregory Wallis was convicted in 1989 of burglary of a habitation with intent to commit sexual assault in 1988. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison and served 18 years. He was released in March 2006.



Background:

In January 1988, a man talked his way into an Irving , Texas , condo and for two hours repeatedly raped and assaulted the woman living there. The victim gave a description to police, but without any leads, the investigation went cold. Four months later, after police circulated a flier about the attack in a local jail, an inmate made a deal with Irving detectives and became a confidential informant. The informant told police that Greg Wallis had a tattoo similar to the description given by the victim. After Wallis became a suspect, the victim picked him out of a photo array. The police had no physical evidence tying Wallis to the crime, and his wife testified that he had been with her at the time of the attack. Weeks before his trial, he was offered – and rejected – a plea bargain offer of 10 years. At trial, the victim testified that she knew for a fact Wallis was the man who raped her. He was convicted and sentenced to 50 years. In December 2005, results of a first round of DNA testing could not entirely exclude Wallis. He was offered his freedom if he would agree to be a life-time registered sex offender. He declined. In 2006, another (more advanced) DNA test was conducted and the results proved that Wallis was not the perpetrator. He was released from prison in March 2006.





8. Billy Wayne Miller

In 1984, Billy Wayne Miller was convicted of abducting and sexually assaulting a woman in 1983. He was released from prison in May 2006 after serving 22 years.



Background:

The victim of a 1983 abduction and sexual assault identified Miller as her attacker. At the time Miller was arrested, he was on parole for a 1972 conviction for assault to commit murder and robbery, stemming from a convenience store hold-up. Investigators could not find evidence from Miller’s trial for the 1983 crimes that could be subjected to DNA testing, so DNA testing was performed on evidence from the victim’s hospital examination. In 2005, testing excluded Miller as a contributor of the DNA sample. After the victim was located and her DNA was compared with the original evidence, and a second test showed the same results, Miller was released.





9. Billy James Smith

Billy James Smith was convicted of aggravated sexual assault while using and exhibiting a deadly weapon in 1986. He was sentenced to life in prison. Smith was released in July 2006.



Background:

Smith was convicted of raping a woman while using a knife as a weapon. His conviction was based in part on an incorrect identification made by the victim’s boyfriend – who did not witness the attack (the Court of Criminal Appeals called this identification “questionable”). The police who searched Smith’s belongings did not find clothing that the victim said the perpetrator wore. The clothes that police confiscated from Smith contained no DNA evidence whatsoever. Also, Smith’s sister testified at trial, corroborating his alibi. There was no evidence in the record that the victim had engaged in sex with anyone besides her attacker in the 24 hours prior to her rape. The prosecution used the presence of semen to prove that a rape had occurred, and Smith was convicted. After Smith requested DNA testing in 2001, the state argued that because the victim had a live-in boyfriend, it may have been possible that the semen belonged to him and therefore, according to the state, results excluding Smith would not prove his innocence. Both the trial court and an appeals court denied his requests for DNA testing. Finally, in June 2005, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overruled the two lower courts and granted Smith’s request for testing, which would set him free in July 2006.





10. Larry Fuller

Larry Fuller was convicted in 1981 of aggravated rape and sentenced to 50 years. (In 1999, he was released on parole, but in YEAR, he returned to prison because of a minor parole violation.) DNA testing in 2006 proved that he could not have been the man that committed the crime, and he was released.



Background:

In the pre-dawn hours of April 26, 1981 , a woman woke up to find a man sitting on top of her with a knife in his hand. When she resisted, he cut her hand, both sides of her neck, and her buttocks. He then raped her and left. The victim claimed that she could see her attacker from a crack of light from her window and the light of her digital alarm clock. She identified Fuller from a photo array and also at trial. The victim was shown two photo arrays. She was unable to make a positive identification from the first array. In the second array, a more recent picture of Fuller was included showing him with a full beard. She identified Fuller from this photo – even though she didn’t remember her attacker having any facial hair and the photo had been taken only one week after the attack. Fuller was the only man to appear in both arrays. According to a state serology expert at Fuller’s trial, testing of the blood and semen sample showed it to be consistent with Fuller and exclusionary to 80 percent of the population. However, upon cross-examination the expert conceded that the results were not definitive. Fuller’s alibi was corroborated and he had no record of sex crimes. Nevertheless, he was convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison. He first contacted the Innocence Project in the mid-1990s. After his release in 1999, he continued to seek post-conviction DNA testing to prove his innocence. In 2003, an initial round of DNA testing was inconclusive. Finally, in 2006, more advanced DNA testing showed that Fuller was not the perpetrator; he is set to be released October 31, 2006 .



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Eric Ferrero

Director of Communications

The Innocence Project

Office: 212-364-5346

Cell: 646-342-9310

100 Fifth Ave. , 3rd Floor

New York, NY 10011

www.innocenceproject.org










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