Posted May 2, 2008 – Once again, the wonders of modern science have exposed the injustices of the U.S. judicial system. For the second time in two weeks, a Black Dallas man has been cleared after serving a quarter-century in prison for a murder he never committed.
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The latest exoneration occurred on Tuesday, when James Lee Woodward was freed after 27 years behind bars, stepping out of a Dallas courtroom to a throng of reporters, photographers and supporters and family members.
"No words can express what a tragic story yours is," state District Judge Mark Stoltz told Woodard shortly before his release.
Woodward, who was serving a life sentence for the 1980 murder of his 21-year-old girlfriend, became the 18th person in Dallas County and 31st in Texas to have his conviction thrown out, thanks to the work of the Innocence Project, an independent law group that uses DNA testing to settle questions about inmates’ guilt.
"I thank God for the existence of the Innocence Project," Woodard, 55, told the court. "Without that, I wouldn't be here today. I would be wasting away in prison."
Woodward’s freedom comes just a week after Dallas County released Thomas McGowan after DNA results showed he did not rape a woman and burglarize her home, for which he spent 23 years in prison. Like Woodward, McGowan was represented by the Innocence Project.
"On the first day he was arrested, he told the world he was innocent ... and nobody listened," Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas, said during Tuesday's hearing.
According to the project, there have been 216 post-conviction exonerations in the United States, since DNA evidence was introduced nearly two decades ago. One hundred, fifty-three of those have occurred in 32 states since 2000, the project says. Sixteen of the inmates freed were on death row at the time they were released. On average, those exonerated spent 12 years in prison. The preponderance of those falsely convicted have been African Americans, the data suggests: 132 were Black; 59 White; 19 Latinos; one Asian American; and five whose race is unknown.
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