Thursday, February 22, 2007
Guilty in 46 minutes; free after a decade
James Waller is a mellow guy. That kind of surprises me, considering what this 50-year-old Dallas man has been through.

James has spent half his life in prison and on parole as a convicted rapist. But a Texas judge recently determined a horrible mistake was made. DNA testing has proven James could not have committed the rape of a 12-year-old boy in 1982.

James' conviction was largely the result of the victim's identification of the rapist. The child told police his perpetrator was about 5'8" tall. James Waller is 6'4". The 12-year-old also testified the rapist was a black man and that he spotted him at a neighborhood 7-11. James Waller was one of the only black people who lived in the neighborhood.

The jury took 46 minutes to find Waller guilty. He then spent more than a decade in prison. Now, after the judge's decision to clear him, the new district attorney in Dallas County has apologized to Waller and has also acknowledged his innocence. The real rapist has never been apprehended.

In addition to all his legal struggles, James has had to deal with the fact his wife and unborn daughter were killed in a car crash while he was out on parole and trying to prove his innocence. James remains devastated over that loss, and says he almost gave up on everything after their deaths in 2001.

James has become the 12th person since 2001 exonerated in Dallas County, Texas. That is more exonerations than any other county in the United States. Why so many in this one county?

The general consensus among people we interviewed seems to be a combination of inappropriately aggressive prosecutions and the fact that Dallas County does a better job saving old DNA evidence than many other jurisdictions. Waller's battle was championed by the New York City-based Innocence Project, which takes up similar cases throughout the country.

Today, Waller has a job, a college degree that he obtained while in prison, and helps feed the homeless on his own time. But he still doesn't officially have his name back. That's because under Texas law, the governor has to sign off on the exoneration to make it official. Six weeks have gone by since the judge's declaration of innocence, and there is no timetable yet from Governor Rick Perry's office.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Perry says, "There is no time frame in which the governor has to act."

So while Waller waits and wonders why the governor is taking so long, he is planning for the future. He hopes to leave Texas (he's not allowed to leave now because he is still on parole) and wants to remarry and have a child someday. He says if he has a girl he'll name her Grace, which was going to be the name of his baby daughter. If it's a boy, James Waller says he will name him Mercy.
Posted By Gary Tuchman, CNN Correspondent: 5:07 PM ET
  38 Comments
There are so many stories just like this around the world. Steven Truscott is a local one that is almost identical to the one here. He is completely innocent and yet 40 years later still trying to clear his name.

It's amazing what lawyers and juries can screw up on, or what people will lie about just to make some kind of sick and twisted point.

Injustice makes me feel ill.
Posted By Anonymous Em, Toronto, Ontario, Canada : 5:29 PM ET
Hey Gary,

A big thanks to DNA. I can't imagine what it's like to have your life stolen from you. He lost most of his adult life,his name,his wife and unborn child.

What a mess. It makes you wonder,when you see the facts presented. The child said he was about 5'8",James is 6'4",big difference! He was one of the only black people(NOT the only one) living in the neighborhood. Hum....

What makes no sense to me,is the fact that the Governor signs off on the exoneration when he feels like it.
It should be automaticly done after the declaration of innocence. That is adding to the insult.
The positive side of the story,is that he has a job,a college degree,wants to move on and have hopes of finding love and creating a family. He can't get back his past but he sure is moving forward. Good for him & good luck.

Joanne R.
Laval Quebec
Posted By Anonymous Joanne R. Laval Quebec : 5:49 PM ET
No time frame for the governor to act? Then how about acting like a freaking human being so this man can have something resembling a life?
Posted By Anonymous Debbie Darby, Denham Springs, LA : 5:56 PM ET
Gary,

Unbelievable. And shame on Governor Perry and the Texas bureaucracy. I have to hope that Arnold would have acted promptly.
Posted By Anonymous Charlotte D, Stockton CA : 6:00 PM ET
LIVING IN AUSTIN TEXAS I WOULD LIKE TO SAY TO OUR "GOVERNOR" : MR PERRY DO YOUR PART AND FOR GOD'S SAKE GET OFF YOUR ASS AND CLEAR HIS NAME - GEEEEZZ WHY DID WE VOTE FOR YOU THEN - WE THOUGHT YOU WERE A GOVERNOR FOR THE PEOPLE
Posted By Anonymous SANDRA, AUSTIN, TEXAS : 6:21 PM ET
Dear Gary,

This is a tragedy and a travesty as well! What is wrong with Governor Perry? Hasn't the state of Texas already stolen enough of Mr. Waller's life? Immediate action should have been taken to clear his name and to allow him to start building a new life away from Texas.

I applaud Mr. Waller for being able to have a positive outlook after all he has been through. I wish him the best of luck and hope that all of his dreams for the future come true.

Gary, hopefully reports like yours will help to bring attention to other similar cases.

Take care,
Jo Ann
Posted By Anonymous Jo Ann Matese, North Royalton, Ohio : 6:28 PM ET
I would be interested to see the racial breakdown of the 12 people exonerated since 2001. How about you?
Posted By Anonymous TY, SAn Diego, CA : 6:41 PM ET
Isn't Texas also the state with the most executions? How many innocent people has the state killed?
Posted By Anonymous Susan, Tiburon CA : 6:51 PM ET
Keep the pressure on Perry. If you don't, who will. It is unacceptable that there is "no time frame." Any time frame on his conscience? What if it were his son? . . .
Posted By Anonymous Sharon, Toronto, Canada : 7:05 PM ET
Hasn't the State of Texas taken enough from Mr. Waller already? How hard is it to sign some paperwork and exonerate a man so he can be free after being wrongfully imprisoned for so long? I am glad he made the most of an apparently horrible situation where justice was non-existent. Sort of makes me wonder how many others just like him are in our prison systems because the legal system was quick to close the case without really proving guilt...
Posted By Anonymous TA Cheramie, Berwick, LA : 7:14 PM ET
Gary,
Dear God, how embarrassing for Texas! Texas has a "whoop ass" attitude sometimes. While other states debate the death penalty, we have an express lane! What a tragic sequence of errors this has been for James. As a TEXAN I would like to say to Governor Perry: "There IS a time frame, this is a man's life and James has suffered enough! Get the lead out Rick! This is why I did NOT vote for you! Exonerate James Waller!!!"
To everyone else reading this: Not all Texans are redneck creeps! There are many GOOD and cool people in this state. A lot of them are in Austin. Unfortunately Gov. Perry is not one of them!
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 7:53 PM ET
To go entirely on a mis-identification of some emotionally crazed human being was the first mistake. 46 minutes to 10 years!! Gimme a break. Wake up Texas!! How many more souls are in prison because of this? Death row must be filled with them.
Posted By Anonymous Joe in Boston, MA : 7:54 PM ET
How quickly we can all be jerked into reality! 46 minutes to be found guilty of a crime he didn't commit. Now, 10 years later there was never any reason for conviction to begin with. What's wrong with a justice system that convicts the innocent so quickly yet leaves the guilty on the streets to strike sagain.
Thank God for DNA breakthroughs! How sad this man has lost a decade of his life and his family. Our American justice system needs help---where o begin is the question.....
Posted By Anonymous Zann Martin, Tennessee : 9:02 PM ET
How many more James Wallers are in the prisons of this world. In my country (BRAZIL), we`ve seen lots of cases like that, too. This story has two sides: the bad one is story itself, the good one is effort made by the people from the project in New York.
Posted By Anonymous Paulo Felix, Brasilia,Brazil : 9:05 PM ET
First, I applaud Mr. Waller on his will to survive and to make something good come out of all this. You are an inspiration, and I wish you all the success in life. Secondly, people, don't be so quick to judge Texas based on it's dealth penalty history. Thirdly, science continues to progress as does our justice system. Thus, I commend Texas for maintaining records and DNA samples from cases in the past to help free those who have been wrongly convicted. Lastly, Gov. Perry, seriously do what's right and get to the bottom of this. Mr. Waller has done his time and deserves your respect and signature to exonerate him without any further delay. In conclusion, God Bless Texas!!
Posted By Anonymous Raj, Houston, Texas : 9:06 PM ET
Screw-up Texan style.
1) Victim screwed up.
2) Prosecutor screwed up.
3) Jurors screwed up.
4) Judge screwed up.
5) Governor screwed up.
So James is still being screwed.
Posted By Anonymous Jack, Santa Ana, CA : 9:31 PM ET
Another case of America in denial. The man has been proven innocent of the rape, yet the governor will not sign off on the exoneration. Wonder if it's because he's black??????????
Posted By Anonymous Joe Ann, Moore, OK : 9:59 PM ET
All of your comments make me proud to be an African American, college educated, articulate women who still believes that there is hope in this world for unity and equality. Your comments truly have lifted my spirits; just think of what these comments will do for Mr. Waller!
Posted By Anonymous renee, plano texas : 10:39 PM ET
Shame on Gov. Perry... there but for the grace of God go you. Don't vote for this man again people of Texas. Shame on him.
Posted By Anonymous Dory, Jackson MS : 10:59 PM ET
As a fellow Texan, I'd like to apologize to this man. I'd also like to know what type of monetary compensation is being issued on his behalf. This "String'em Up" attitude is still very visible in Dallas County.
The good ol boy folks in the sheriff's dept.would make a wonderful episode on
the TV show: Cops. It seems to be easier to say case solved, than to actually solve the case.
To Gov.Perry, what the heck is your problem?
Posted By Anonymous Katie, Garland Tx : 11:27 PM ET
In Texas there is a saying; "kill them all and let God sort the good from the bad". The "RedNeck" governor and George W. are examples of this ignorance. Shame on Texas and give it back to Mexico.
Posted By Anonymous Kurt Hamburg Germany : 1:30 AM ET
James Waller is an American hero.
Posted By Anonymous E Dub L, Bpt, CT : 1:50 AM ET
Texas is a disgrace. Isn't it odd that the states with the highest concentrations of born-again Christians are also the states with the most crime and the most executions? Most capital punishment is in the concentration camps in the South. Why are all those fundmanetalists so ineffective in their efforts to create a Christ-centered society while the godless, liberal North has reduced violent crime and eliminated capital punishment? Is it possible that a more open and progressive society is a better deterrent to crime than the southern combo of Christ, guns and retribution?
Posted By Anonymous Mason Myatt Birmingham, AL : 6:35 AM ET
Dear Gary:

God Bless You for bringing this to light. Much as it turns my stomach, I need to be edified.

Governor Rick Perry needs not only to sign off on Mr. Waller's exoneration YESTERDAY but he should do so on bended knee in front of the whole world. I suggest he do it at our fair State's Capitol in Austin with CNN covering it as "Breaking News." Seriously, it would wake people up.

There is much to be learned from this horrible miscarriage of justice. First, Mr. Waller is obviously a man of great faith, courage and perserverance. We should all abide by his example. I believe people to whom this happens should be compensated from the Crime Victims Fund. Money cannot give this man back what he has lost but every little bit helps when you are trying to find a new way in life. He is a soldier and a shining example of what it means to Love and Forgive.

Second, we can learn to deliver true justice by discontinuing executions here and prioritizing such appeals that are based on DNA evidence problems. This would clear up many dockets and speed up the process, resulting in reduced costs for all parties involved. Shouldn't the people responsible for the mistakes be charged criminally? That would certainly cause prosecutors to slow down and look a little more closely at evidence.

Third, we can learn not to blame the victim (the 12-year-old boy). People should not use a blog to devalue any rape victim. Emotionally crazed? Yes, rape victims ARE emotional and feel crazy. Trust me, I know. The trauma never leaves. By the Grace of God, we find ways to cope. Let the focus be on the eager prosecutor and/or law enforcement officers who slammed this case through.

*Gary (or anyone interested):
Do a Google search on "Houston Crime lab problems" Circa 2004. Yet another thing for Houston and Dallas to be in competition over. How many innocents were sent to prison?

P.S. In defense of Texas...There ARE millions of great, compassionate and very intelligent people living all around the Lone Star State. If anyone wants to challenge the stereotypes that exist, think about us the next time you watch a SHUTTLE launch from NASA, fill up your car with gas or need a helping hand during one of the WORST natural disasters in U.S. history.

I'd be willing to bet we have the highest number of engineers per capita than any other state :)
Posted By Anonymous Valerie, Houston, Texas : 7:01 AM ET
PEOPLE!! (Those of you NOT living in Texas). This is not about YOU or your ignorance. Give Texas back to Mexico? Where in the world did THAT come from?

Have you ever heard of a place in the North called Washington, D.C.? Check out the crime stats there.

Unfortunately, it is this type of knee-jerk thoughtless reaction that causes people like James Waller to be so quickly and wrongly punished.
Posted By Anonymous Valerie, Houston, Texas : 7:08 AM ET
What the hell is up with this Governor? Hasn't this poor man suffered enough? It's bad enough that he was railroaded into prison but then he loses his family ont top of that. It's pretty sad when a person's life could be turned completely around by nothing more than a signature and the Governor is "too busy" to sign a piece of paper. Pathetic!
Posted By Anonymous Steve Caniff Columbus,OH : 8:13 AM ET
It's just a shame, an utter shame.
Posted By Anonymous Jim, Huntsville AL : 8:49 AM ET
and YET they call it Justice....but who's Justice ?
Posted By Anonymous brenda, PSL Florida : 9:29 AM ET
I didn't hear any monatary compensation mentioned! Not that this would bring back ALL the years he lost but how dare our government just issue an APOLOGY after this man has lost soooo much! This story is unbelievable, but whats worst is the number of innocent prisoners STILL behind bars. When are changes ever going to come?
Posted By Anonymous Gretchen, St Petersburg FL : 9:30 AM ET
This catastrophe is not confined to texas: it is a national problem, unfortunately. We are a nation in disgrace. We have the largest prison population on the face of the earth, and there is no end in sight. The US is in the midst of a class war that rivals any class/caste war in history, and the roots of this are buried in our prisons. I wonder whether Mr. Waller had a court-appointed lawyer, or whether he was able to shell out the tens of thousands of dollars that usually affords justice. The judicial system is a capitalist enterprise, and prisons are now profit-driven corporations. Every person incarcerated represents a profit margin. Right now one in seven people are in prison. Wanna know why Johnny can't read? It's because mommy and daddy are in the joint. By the time the American public wakes up, it'll be too late. Good luck to you, Mr. Waller.
Posted By Anonymous Renee, Rangeley Maine : 9:54 AM ET
God's going to be very annoyed with you, Mr. Governor.
Posted By Anonymous Lindsay Seattle : 10:06 AM ET
In response to the person who asked about the racial breakdown of the exonerations, I've been following the stories on these Dallas exonerations for a while and there are, by my count, 4 Caucasians, 6 African-Americans, and 1 Asian (there was one I don't know the race of). But regardless of their race, nobody deserves what happened to these men and I hope we will all be vigilant and help stop this from happening so easily.
Posted By Anonymous Heather, Conroe, TX : 10:59 AM ET
how about AC90 instead of AC360 ...
i wonder when you will try to go beyond 90 degree to prove your title .
can't we expand our horizon ?
Posted By Anonymous Rupa , Boston ,MA : 11:54 AM ET
didn't think something like this could happen in your country...
james waller,sir,Mercy's a beautiful name:)
Posted By Anonymous naurah,lahore,pakistan : 11:59 AM ET
Shame on the Texas governor, and to anyone who, with a straight face, can say, "There is no time frame in which the governor has to act." It's time we use common sense and do what's right, instead of getting wound up in ridiculous technical parts of stupid laws.

Perry should have made it his first priority to sign off on it, the minute he knew about it. Maybe Perry should spend a decade behind bars for nothing & see how he likes it!!
Posted By Anonymous Sandy - Cleveland, Ohio : 11:59 AM ET
My heart breaks every time I hear another story like this. How many times has this happened? How many innocent people are being put away even now?
And as for the governor, why don't you try spending some time in prison, and then try getting a job with a prison record. This poor guy deserves a personal apology from the governor, the state, and the prosecutors, a boatload of money as compensation, and an immediate signing of the papers.
Posted By Anonymous Elizabeth Conroy, Pennsylvania : 12:12 PM ET
Sounds like the entire judicial and political system in Texas needs to be reworked. Isn't it bad enough that an innoncent man spent so much time in prison; now, he is being screwed over again by the governor. Good grief have you people not tortured this man enough already?
Posted By Anonymous Shelly Santee SC : 12:17 PM ET
the people of texas can help this man by calling all newspapers and newscast to air daily and call for the governor to sign, or to give an explanation as to why he has not signed, also the people of texas should make it into law that governor has no more than 14 days to sign, i wish this man well and may all the people of texas join forces to clear this man of all.
Posted By Anonymous samuel salcido oxnard ca. : 12:33 PM ET
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