DALLAS — The Innocence Project of Texas will review the cases of 354 inmates who have requested DNA testing in an effort to be exonerated, the Dallas County district attorney announced Friday.
Smaller-scale efforts have been undertaken in Virginia, Florida and North Carolina, experts said, but this is believed to be the first time a prosecutor has called for an outside examination of every request for appeal based on DNA evidence.
"We had to make this move," District Attorney Craig Watkins said. "We're going to do things right in Dallas County and right some wrongs that have been done in the past."
Thirty-four Dallas County inmates have received DNA testing since being convicted. Twelve were exonerated, 11 saw their guilt confirmed and six are still going through the testing process. In five cases, the DNA testing was inconclusive, according to figures provided by the district attorney's office.
Dallas County has been the site of several exonerations, in part because the county has biological evidence stored that dates back as far as 25 years, said Jeff Blackburn, director of the Innocence Project of Texas. Other counties destroy evidence much sooner, experts said.
Under the review plan, Innocence Project lawyers and staffers will work with law students to identify the most likely candidates for exonerations. Cases in which conviction turned upon a single eyewitness identification will get the closest looks.
Illinois and Texas lead the nation with 26 DNA exonerations apiece, followed by New York with 21, according to the Innocence Project. Nationwide there have been 194 exonerations due to DNA evidence.