Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Texas Man Freed After 18 Years; DNA Evidence Exonerates.



The Dallas Morning News reports today that a Texas man has been freed after serving 18 years in prison on a rape conviction after a second DNA test exonerated him.

Gregory Wallis was 29 years old when he was accused of breaking into a woman's home and attacking her in 1988. The attacker spent hours in the home with the woman, and she made a positive identification. Wallis' photograph was placed in a photographic lineup after an anonymous tip indicated that he was involved in the attack. Wallis said that he did not know how the victim came to pick him. He said, "I was sitting at home and they came and arrested me. The next thing I know, I'm standing trial."

Wallis was convicted after a jury trial. The conviction was for burglary with intent to commit sexual assault. Wallis was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Wallis had several prior robbery convictions, but had never been known to assault anyone.

At the time of Wallis' trial, an expert testified that authorities could not extract DNA evidence to test. As a result, the trial was based on the victim's testimony and her identification of Wallis as her attacker. Wallis did not take the stand on his own behalf.

In 2004, Wallis moved for post-conviction DNA analysis. Investigators had to track down new samples from the victim and her former boyfriend, adn had to find the original DNA evidence from the attack. Initial testing in December suggested that Wallis was not guilty, but could not entirely exclude him. As a result, Wallis could have been freed then, but only if he agreed to live as a registered sex offender for the rest of his life. Wallis found that option unacceptable, and he sought more sophisticated DNA testing.

The more sophisticated testing found no match with Wallis' DNA. It further concluded that the woman was assaulted by someone who had "smoked a cigarette recovered from the crime scene."

A Texas District Court Judge granted Wallis a personal recognizance bond and said, "You should not be incarcerated -- not a moment longer." The Judge said, "I don't know how to apologize. I don't know where to start, but I'll start with me and 'I'm sorry.'" The Judge was not involved in Wallis' trial.

Wallis said he's eager to begin his new life. He speculated on his first meal as a free man -- maybe steak -- and said he's going to settle down and get a job. Like others falsely convicted in Texas, he's eligible for up to $250,000 in compensation for the years he spent locked up. Additionally, he learned to repair heating and cooling systems while in prison, and he plans to seek work in that trade.

Hat-tip: Talk Left (March 21, 2006)

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