Innocence Project has high hopes for justice system

Published: Sep. 2, 2013 at 2:30 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 2, 2013 at 1:52 PM CDT
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AMARILLO - Hundreds of new laws took effect across the state Sunday and the founder of the Innocence Project of Texas believes one of those laws will revolutionize the Texas justice system.

That law, SB 344, streamlines the appeals process for inmates who were convicted based on science that has since been discredited.

"I'm going to predict right now that at least several hundred people over the next few years will come out of prison because of this law," Innocence Project founder Jeff Blackburn said.

The law, six years in the making, will overturn convictions in cases where the science behind the forensic evidence has proved phony.

Techniques like dog scent line-ups, some fingerprint and arson forensics, even some hair and fiber analysis have all been discredited as credible scientific evidence.

"DNA is good science. A lot of the other evidence that's been used in court rooms is very bad science," Blackburn said.

The Forensic Science Commission is now in place to guarantee "bad science" no longer throws the innocent behind bars, but the commission wasn't created until 2005. A year after North Texas father Cameron Todd Willingham was killed for the murder of his three daughters based off unconvincing arson evidence.

"If Cameron Todd Willingham had been allowed to live, he would be out of prison a free man now on the basis of this law," Blackburn said.

Willingham is just one of hundreds of examples of cases this law would have effected, and hundreds more likely sit in prison.

Blackburn says if even a half percent of the some hundred-thousand people incarcerated in Texas are innocent, that's far too many. But this law, he says, is a huge step in the right direction.

"I think that we are doing more and better to reform out system than any other state in the union right now," he said.

Another law in effect as of Sunday that requires prosecutors to test all DNA evidence in death penalty cases is also considered a win for the Innocence Project.