A lot of men from Dallas County have been exonerated–27 at the latest count–and James Waller is one of the more memorable. He was convicted of the 1983 rape of a twelve-year-old boy—mostly on the word of the boy—and given thirty years for the crime. When DNA tests became available a few years later, he asked for one but didn’t get it. He kept asking, even after he was paroled in 1993, because he was considered a sex offender and couldn’t get a job or even go to parks when children were present. He finally got a test in 2001, but it was inconclusive. A second one in 2007 finally pardoned him, 24 years after he was sent away.
When TEXAS MONTHLY did a photo shoot of DNA exonerees back in 2008, Waller was one of the clear leaders. He had known a few of the men in prison, and he had gone out of his way to contact some of the others after they got out, knowing how hard it was to go from wrongly-convicted-man to free-man. He would even appear at hearings when a new exoneree was getting out, to talk with him, offer advice, let him know he could call him for help. Waller is tall and quietly charismatic and speaks in a deep, country accent. In a room full of men with hard-luck life stories, his stood out. For example, two days before that hearing to determine if he should get a second DNA test, his wife Doris, who was eight months pregnant, died in a car wreck.
Waller soldiered on, refusing to let his troubles destroy him or his spirit. In our interview in 2008, he memorably said, “God didn’t forget about me. That’s the main thing. There were times where I forgot about him, but he never forgot about me. And that’s why I’m still here. But I’m not gonna live in Texas no more. I already have my house up for sale. I’m going to move back to Louisiana.”