Fed Up!

After years of digging in its heels, the criminal justice system in Texas is beginning to try to fix some of its own mistakes. But the federal system remains maddeningly unresponsive. Just ask Richard LaFuente.

Imagine that you’ve just been arrested for a murder you didn’t commit. You’re innocent, but there’s been some kind of mix-up, and the cops haul you in. You know it’s just a matter of time before they figure out their mistake. But they don’t, and before you know it, you’ve been indicted. The prosecutor offers you a deal: Confess, and we’ll go easy on you. Confess? You’re not going to confess to something you didn’t do. You go to trial, still certain the truth will come out and you’ll be vindicated. But the prosecutor tells a convincing story, and the jury decides you’re guilty. Next thing you know, you’re in prison, counting the days and then the months and then the years. You keep appealing your conviction, and eventually the prosecutors come back to you with another deal: Confess and show a little remorse, they say, and you can go home. But you can’t confess. You know you didn’t do it, and at this point, the truth is all you have. So you go back to your cell. Finally, decades later, the truth does come out, and you are freed.

Unimaginable, right? Except this is just what happened to Michael Morton, who was convicted in 1987 of killing his wife, in Georgetown, and given a life sentence. Morton steadfastly claimed his innocence, and in 2009 he was told that if he confessed and showed remorse, he could go home. He refused. Two years later, he was exonerated. The same thing happened to Anthony Graves, a Brenham man who was put on death row back in 1994. In 2008 he was offered a life sentence in return for a guilty plea. He told prosecutors, “You either free me or kill me, but I’m standing on what’s right.” In October 2010 Graves walked free.

In 1994 Richard LaFuente, from Plainview, was given the same offer. All he had to do was confess and show remorse for a

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