The Austin Chronicle

Justice for HPD Lab Victim?

By Jordan Smith, April 16, 2004, News

Harris Co. District Judge Joan Huffman on April 12 recommended the Court of Criminal Appeals vacate the rape conviction of 22-year-old Josiah Sutton, who was falsely imprisoned for four years for a rape he did not commit before DNA evidence exonerated him last year. Sutton was convicted based on faulty DNA testing conducted by the now-infamous and recently reorganized Houston Police Department crime lab. Although Sutton was exonerated and released from jail, he will remain a convicted felon unless the CCA or the Board of Pardons and Paroles steps in to wipe the slate clean.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, applauded Huffman's decision and chastised the BPP for its failure to act on Sutton's behalf – the board "has chosen to sit idly by, claiming that it is limited by self-imposed procedural guidelines," he said in a press release. If the court and BPP fail to act, lawmakers may come to Sutton's aid, crafting legislation to erase his conviction, similar to a move legislators undertook last spring to clear the records of 13 defendants from the infamous Tulia drug sting. "The incarceration of innocent persons is a threat to the integrity of our entire criminal justice system, and we should therefore take all steps to rectify the problem," said Ellis, while renewing the call for lawmakers to create an innocence commission to study cases of false imprisonment. A revenue-neutral bill that would've created such a commission languished in committee last spring.

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