A Texas man, Michael Phillips, 57, recently became the first person to be cleared of a crime by DNA testing he did not request.
Phillips was accused of raping a white teenage girl at a Dallas motel in 1990. The victim, who had partially removed her attacker’s face mask during the rape, identified Phillips as her assailant. Phillips told his lawyer that he was innocent, but the lawyer advised him to take a plea bargain because a black man accused of raping a white teen had no chance of winning before a Dallas jury. Phillips spent 12 years in prison before being released in 2002. In 2004, he was returned to prison for six months for failing to register as a sex offender.
Phillips is wheelchair bound and seriously ill with sickle cell anemia. He lives in a nursing home. His father died while he was in prison. Trying to clear his name was one of the last things on his mind when he was contacted by the Conviction Integrity Unit which was started by Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins in 2007. The unit had run DNA recovered from the victim through the FBI's Combined DNA Index System which identified the perpetrator as Lee Marvin Banks. Banks lived at the same motel where Phillips worked and lived which was also the scene of the rape. Thus, Phillips has been cleared, but Banks cannot be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations.
"DNA tells the truth, so this was another case of eyewitness misidentification where one individual's life was wrongfully snatched and a violent criminal was allowed to go free," said Watkins. "We apologize to Michael Phillips for a criminal justice system that failed him."
Since 1989, 317 people have been exonerated by DNA testing after having been convicted according to the Innocence Project. There were 87 exonerations in 2013 according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Only one in five involved DNA testing.
On July 25, 2014, a Dallas county state district judge held that Phillips should be exonerated. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is expected to officially exonerate Phillips soon. Then he will become eligible for $80,000 in compensation for every year he was wrongly incarcerated.
"I never imagined I would live to see my name cleared," said Phillips. "Six of my siblings died from the same disease, so I thank God for sustaining me in prison. I always told everyone I was innocent and now people will finally believe me."
Sources: www.christianpost.com, www.washingtonpost.com
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