On September 17, in a decisive 7–2 ruling, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the capital murder conviction of a Corpus Christi woman named Hannah Overton. Readers of Texas Monthly may recall Overton’s case, which I examined in an article a few years ago called “Hannah and Andrew,” a lengthy story that questioned the assumptions that had led to her prosecution.
Defense lawyers get a lot of grief for a lot of reasons: they thrive on technicalities, they charge high fees, they advocate for the obviously guilty. They don’t get much credit for working the system pro bono to free the innocent. On June 12 the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association did just that, honoring two longtime lawyers, Mike Ware and Keith Hampton, with the Percy Foreman Lawyer of the Year award at the twenty-seventh annual Rusty Duncan Advanced Criminal Law Course in San Antonio.
The dismantling of a prison unit in suburban Houston in 2011. (AP/Pat Sullivan)
It’s become a familiar scene, especially in Texas: an innocent man walks out of prison, where he’s met by an exuberant crowd of family, lawyers, and journalists. The members of his family hug him, cry, and laugh with relief. His lawyers stand before the gathered press and raise serious questions about how the state could have made such a terrible mistake to lock up an innocent man.