AP/ February 11, 2013, 5:32 PM
CORSICANA, TEXASA 58-year-old Texas man was allowed to walk free Monday after spending half his life behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit — the repeated stabbing of a woman whose body was found on a dirt road in rural North Texas.
Randolph Arledge, left, speaks to one of his attorneys, Innocence Project co-director Barry Scheck, before a court hearing in Corsicana, Texas, Feb. 11, 2013. / AP
Randolph Arledge was sentenced to 99 years in prison in 1984 for killing Carolyn Armstrong. But a state district judge in Corsicana, about 50 miles southeast of Dallas, agreed with prosecutors and Arledge’s attorneys that he could no longer be considered guilty after new DNA tests tied someone else to the crime.
Judge James Lagomarsino agreed to release Arledge while the process of overturning his conviction is pending. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals must accept Lagomarsino’s recommendation for the conviction to be formally overturned, a process that is considered a formality.
Arledge was wearing shackles around his wrists and ankles at the start of the hearing. He later was taken into a back room by two deputies to have the shackles removed. When he returned, Arledge hugged his two children. His daughter was 4 years old and his son 7 when he was sent to prison.
Armstrong’s body was found in August 1981 on a rural dirt road in Navarro County, according to a court filing by Arledge’s attorneys. She had been stripped naked from the waist down and stabbed more than 40 times.
Her abandoned car was found miles away with several pieces of evidence, including a black hairnet on the left side of the driver’s seat. Hair taken from that net was preserved for three decades. In 2011, more advanced DNA testing linked a hair sample to someone else.
Armstrong’s relatives declined to comment Monday.
Like many wrongfully convicted inmates, Arledge was sent to prison with the help of faulty eyewitness testimony. Two co-conspirators in an armed robbery testified at his trial that he had admitted to stabbing someone in Corsicana and that he had blood on his clothes and knife, according to the filing by Arledge’s attorneys.
One of those witnesses has since admitted to lying about Arledge due to a personal dispute, the filing said.
Arledge became the 118th person in Texas state courts to have his conviction overturned, according to the University of Michigan’s national registry of exonerations.
State lawmakers have passed several measures to try to prevent wrongful convictions. Texas now has a law allowing all inmates convicted of a crime to seek new DNA testing. It also has the nation’s most generous law for ex-inmates who have proven their innocence, providing a lump-sum payment of $80,000 for each year someone wrongly spent behind bars, as well as an annuity and other benefits.
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Eyewitness Identification has come under scrutiny in the last few years, with studies and DNA proving many eyewitness testimony is wrong.
Courts are wrestling with how to ensure juries understand that the eyewitness testimony can be flawed, regardless how much the witness believes her or she is telling the truth.
The Supreme Court of Washington State ruled this week that trial courts can give juries instructions regarding the reliability of eyewitness accounts especially when the identification is of a person of a different race.
From the Seattle Post
“Summarizing problems with the state’s case also acknowledged in the lead opinion, dissenting Justice Charles Wiggins opined that prosecutors offered “barely any evidence corroborating the identification.”
Underlying it all is the basic problem that white witnesses are not very good at correctly identifying black suspects. The reverse is also true, as are the other iterations of cross-racial identification.
At trial, Allen’s defense attorney asked that among the directives given to the jury would be an instruction noting that cross-racial identifications are especially difficult. Both proposed instructions noted that the problem exists in circumstances where a witness is not prejudiced and has extensive experience with people of other races. The judge declined to give such an instruction to the jury. Allen was ultimately convicted of felony harassment and sentenced to 14 months in prison.
This is the shocking part of the court’s ruling
Reviews of exonerations based on new DNA evidence show nearly 80 percent of wrongly convicted criminal defendants were found guilty because of faulty eyewitness identifications, according to studies cited by the dissenting justices. Forty percent of all DNA-based exonerations cases involved cross-racial identifications; nearly all of those – 36 percent of all exonerations – involved white witnesses misidentifying black defendants.