death penalty news—-TEXAS

April 29


Man set to be 17th exonerated by DNA in Dallas County

Illegally withheld evidence probably caused a man who will be exonerated
today to spend more time behind bars than anyone in the country cleared by
DNA, the Dallas County district attorney's office and the Innocence
Project of Texas said Monday.

James Lee Woodard is expected to be released today by state District Judge
Mark Stoltz and become the 17th man exonerated by DNA in Dallas County,
which has more DNA exonerations than any other county in the nation.

Mr. Woodard, 55, was sentenced to life in prison in 1981 for the
strangulation and rape of his 21-year-old girlfriend, Beverly Ann Jones.

But information that Ms. Jones was with 3 men including two later
convicted of unrelated sexual assaults around the time of her death was
not disclosed to the defense nor was it thoroughly investigated, said
prosecutor Mike Ware, who oversees the Dallas County district attorney's
office conviction integrity unit.

Evidence that could benefit a defendant is required by law to be turned
over to a defendant, though there is no criminal punishment for not doing

Mr. Ware said Mr. Woodard received a "fundamentally unfair" trial. He said
he believes the evidence is something that prosecutors at the time should
have investigated, "or at least turn it over so the defense could

Before the district attorney's office agreed that the DNA that exonerated
Mr. Woodard of the rape also exonerated him of the murder in itself an
unusual step a forensic pathologist examined the file and concluded that
Ms. Jones was killed about the same time she was raped.

Her body was found New Year's Eve 1980 near the Trinity River in a wooded
area near South Loop 12. The night Ms. Jones was killed, she was with
Theodore Blaylock, who was convicted of an aggravated rape committed three
weeks after Ms. Jones' death, according to Mr. Ware and testimony from a
1981 post-conviction hearing.

Mr. Blaylock testified at the hearing that he was drinking with Ms. Jones,
Edward Mosley and Eddie Woodard, who is not related to James Lee Woodard,
one morning in late December 1980.

Mr. Blaylock said he and Mr. Mosley went with Ms. Jones to a South Dallas
convenience store where Ms. Jones left and got in another car with three
other men. Mr. Blaylock could not provide descriptions.

In 1982, Mr. Blaylock was shot and killed when he tried to rape another
woman in her car. She pulled a gun from under the seat and shot him
several times, Mr. Ware said.

Eddie Woodard is now a registered sex offender involved in a brutal sexual
assault, who the district attorney's office said has absconded from
probation. Mr. Mosley's whereabouts were unclear late Monday.

Prosecutors want to compare DNA from the men to the genetic evidence from
the rape to find the true culprit.

James Lee Woodard was seeking a new trial at the 1981 hearing, alleging
that prosecutors did not fully disclose information about Ms. Jones'
whereabouts the night she was killed. The judge, John Ovard, who was also
the trial judge, denied the new trial and formally sentenced him.

The judge and the district attorney's office could have righted Mr.
Woodard's wrongful conviction in 1981, just months later, said Natalie
Roetzel, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas.

"It's one of the most disturbing things about this case," she said.
"Essentially, that was ignored because the investigators had the suspect
they wanted."

Also, a prosecution witness changed his testimony since the Innocence
Project of Texas, a nonprofit independent legal clinic, began
investigating Mr. Woodard's conviction. Ms. Jones' stepfather testified
that on the night she was killed, Mr. Woodard came to the apartment in the
middle of the night looking for her.

Oscar Edwards now says he believes Mr. Woodard was not the person who came
to his door and did not kill his daughter, Mr. Ware said.

Mr. Woodard, who has a record for nonviolent crimes, is the second man
cleared by DNA during a review of 350 defendants' requests for DNA tests
that were denied under previous District Attorney Bill Hill.

Like many in Dallas County exonerated by DNA, Mr. Woodard was convicted
during the era of District Attorney Henry Wade. Current District Attorney
Craig Watkins has repeatedly said he believes that during this time,
prosecutors were more focused on convictions than justice.

In several handwritten letters, Mr. Woodard begged Mr. Wade to
reinvestigate his case and always maintained his innocence. He said that
his letters were always answered by a prosecutor saying nothing could be
done because a jury convicted him.

In a March 1985 letter, Mr. Woodard wrote to Mr. Wade: "If you found out
for yourself that I was innocent, would you let me go?"

(source: Dallas Morning News)