More than two decades ago, Michael Phillips pleaded guilty to a rape he did not commit and — following his attorney’s advice — agreed to serve 12 years in prison. Recently, the district attorney of Dallas County apologized for the wrongful conviction and exonerated the 57-year-old whose innocence was proven thanks to a novel project.
"This is a great day for Mr. Phillips, but this is a terrible day for our justice system,” Craig Watkins, the DA, said. "We took 12 years of this man's life and he's got sickle cell [anemia].”
Phillips was convicted of the Sept. 28, 1990, rape of a 16-year-old white girl in a Dallas motel. The attacker was a Black man wearing a ski mask, but the victim was able to slightly raise the mask. When shown several photographs, she identified Phillips, who lived at the motel.
According to NPR, Lee Marvin Banks, another man who lived at the motel, denies having committed the crime, but has no explanation for his semen being found inside the victim. The court no longer has jurisdiction to prosecute Banks because the statute of limitations for the crime has run out.
Phillips's exoneration is a result of a project to pro-actively review untested rape kits, as opposed to waiting for the wrongly convicted to ask. As a result, he might be the first exonerated person to not have pushed for his own exoneration.
"I wasn't surprised that it happened because I thought it was likely we'd run across one or two cases like this,” Samuel Gross, a University of Michigan Law professor and the project founder, told NPR. "There was nothing about Mr. Phillips's case before the results came in that showed that another person had committed the rape. In the other cases DNA testing was done, it proved defendants were in fact guilty. In his case it proved that he was innocent.”
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(Photo: AP Photo)