Top 10 Criminal Justice Stories
The unsteady hand of Texas justice
1) Michael Morton Framed? After nearly 25 years in prison, Michael Morton was cleared by DNA tests, released, and exonerated for the 1986 murder of his wife. Did then-Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson (now a district judge) withhold vital evidence at Morton's 1987 trial? Morton's attorneys have called for a court of inquiry; others are calling for sanctions or Anderson's resignation.
2) Yogurt Unsolved Twenty years after the brutal slaying of four girls, the infamous 1991 yogurt shop murders remain unsolved. A handful of defense attorneys and at least one of the original case investigators say that going back to square one – the scene of the grisly crime – is what's needed to find the solution.
3) See No Evil at APA Austin Police Association members were riled by the purchase of a union hall without consultation and the use by an executive board member of officer-donated leave time for statewide union business. Nevertheless, the membership – in a record-low turnout – re-elected President Wayne Vincent and named Combined Law Enforcement Agencies of Texas President Todd Harrison second-in-command.
4) We'd Rather Not Know The state's Forensic Science Commission closed its inquiry into the 2004 Cameron Todd Willingham capital arson case without ruling whether fire investigators were negligent during their initial review. Fire scientists have said that state investigators relied on outdated science and myths to conclude that the since-executed Willingham was guilty of an arson that killed his three children – but Attorney General Greg Abbott limited the FSC's jurisdiction before the panel could rule.
5) Another APD Shooting At year's end, the May police shooting death of Byron Carter remained unresolved, though the cops implicated are back on the job. Police accused Carter and a companion of casing cars near Downtown when officers shot passenger Carter in self-defense; the Carter family attorney says the young men were doing nothing wrong and were shot in panic or negligence. A grand jury no-billed the juvenile for aggravated assault, and the APD and criminal investigations continue.
6) He Had a Point After decades of replacing punctured tires, Hyde Park residents saw the arrest and prosecution of longtime neighborhood tire-slasher Tommy Kelley. The 56-year-old homeless man represented himself at trial and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with more cases to come.
7) Suspicion Lingered Ten months after Maurice Pierce was shot and killed by APD Officer Frank Wilson after a foot chase, a Travis County grand jury cleared Wilson of wrongdoing in the death of the former suspect in the 1991 yogurt shop murders. Charges against Pierce were dropped in 2003 for lack of evidence, and though the shooting took place more than a year ago and the grand jury no-billed Wilson this fall, Pierce's personal property has not yet been returned to his family.
8) That's Not the Guy Faulty identification is the cause of most of the state's wrongful convictions, and Texas lawmakers finally passed a first step to reforming eyewitness ID procedures, although without enforcement mechanisms. The APD and Travis County D.A.'s Office released a study demonstrating that double-blind sequential lineups greatly reduce mistaken IDs.
9) Deregistering Romeos After years of increasing criminal sanctions for sex offenses, legislators finally passed a modest measure to undo some injustices. The new law allows some youthful offenders whose romantic liaisons have branded them as deviants a way to have their names removed from the state's exploding sex offender registry.
10) One Inquiry Ends ... The U.S. Deptartment of Justice officially ended its four-year probe of APD practices, concluding there was "no reasonable cause to believe that APD has engaged in a pattern or practice" of illegal policing. The probe was requested in 2004 by the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Austin NAACP, based on accusations of excessive force against minority residents. The FBI has reportedly said it is now reviewing the APD shooting of Byron Carter.