Richard Miles, wrongly imprisoned for fourteen years, is lucky.
He’s lucky because even though he had no DNA evidence on his side, he’s been exonerated—formally by a Dallas judge today and officially by the Court of Criminal Appeals a week ago. Most of the exonerations coming out of Texas—and in particular Dallas County, where Miles was from—have come because of DNA evidence. There was none in Miles’ case, in which he was convicted of shooting one man and trying to shoot another at a Texaco station near Lake Bachman in 1994. Miles was convicted mostly on the eyewitness testimony of one man and the forensic testimony of a gunshot expert, who said residue on his hands showed he had recently fired a gun.
Miles is lucky because Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey nonprofit that helps the wrongly convicted, looked into his case back in 2006. An investigator found that police had initially found two other suspects but never followed through on them—and one of them was a violent drug dealer whose ex-girlfriend had called police to say that he was the shooter. Police reports about these two suspects were never turned over to Miles’s attorneys.
Miles is lucky because Centurion went to the Conviction Integrity Unit in the office of Dallas County DA Craig Watkins, which began investigating Miles’s case. The CIU found that the one eyewitness against Miles had actually had serious doubts about Miles back in 1994, but that the man prosecuting the case, Tom D’Amore, just told the witness to ID the man sitting next to the defense lawyer. He did. The CIU also talked to the gunshot expert, who now said she couldn’t say that the material on Miles’s hands came from shooting a gun.
Miles is lucky that the CCA—which usually makes it almost impossible to win on an actual innocence claim without DNA—looked at the whole picture and used common sense as well as legal logic to say the obvious: Miles is innocent.