The Houston Chronicle is reporting that the City of Houston must pay $5 million dollars to a person who was wrongfully convicted and spent 17 years in jail for a crime he did not commit. This should be another wake-up call for all city and county governments in Texas that they should aggressively lobby the Texas Legislature to fix the problems in the criminal justice system, because it is local taxpayers who must foot the bill when innocent people are wrongfully convicted.

Several years ago the City of Austin settled lawsuits for more than $14 million with Christopher Ochoa and Richard Danziger – two people who were wrongfully convicted in Austin.

The bill will also probably come due soon for local Dallas taxpayers for all the wrongful convictions in that county that have come to light.

From the Chronicle:

A federal jury on Thursday awarded $5 million to a Houston man who spent 17 years in prison for a kidnapping and rape he did not commit, finding the city should pay for its “deliberate indifference” to problems at the crime lab whose false evidence secured the conviction.

George Rodriguez, 48, gained his freedom in 2004 after DNA tests discredited the findings of the troubled Houston Police Department crime lab on his case. By that time, he had served nearly two decades in prison. His father had died. His daughters faced abuse from men their mother lived with.

“Ain’t no amount of money is going to even my scale,” Rodriguez said after hearing the verdict. “I lost my dad and my girls have been through hell. I am grateful, but no money could replace what I lost.”

“Ain’t no amount of money is going to even my scale,” Rodriguez said after hearing the verdict. “I lost my dad and my girls have been through hell. I am grateful, but no money could replace what I lost.”

A jury of five women and three men deliberated for about two days after hearing testimony from former Mayor Lee P. Brown, who was police chief in 1987, James Bolding, a crime lab manager who testified at Rodriguez’s trial and from Rodriguez himself.

Lawyers for Rodriguez had asked jurors to award $35 million to hold the city accountable for the chronic problems at the crime lab.

“This verdict says what I think we all know to be true about the Houston Police Department crime lab,” said Barry Scheck, one of Rodriguez’s lawyers and a co-founder of the Innocence Project, which helped secure his release from prison. “They convicted innocent men and the city was indifferent.”

Three other men have been released from prison after the exposure of crime lab errors in their cases. Rodriguez is the first to sue.

Lawyers for the city, the only defendant in the case, argued that Rodriguez deserved nothing because his conviction resulted from the lie of one analyst and not a problem with policy.

In reaching its verdict, the jury found Bolding’s testimony played an important role in Rodriguez’s conviction and that the city had an official policy or custom of allowing the crime lab personnel to be inadequately trained and supervised.

The panel also found, after hours of deliberation and one declaration that it was deadlocked on the issue, that Brown, as the city’s policy maker, showed deliberate indifference to the lack of training and supervision at the crime lab and the chance that someone’s constitutional right to a fair trial could be violated.

Rodriguez was convicted in the 1987 kidnapping and sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl. Bolding testified at his trial that tests on body fluids from the crime scene eliminated another suspect, Isidro Yanez, but not Rodriguez.

Years later, after the Innocence Project took the case, DNA tests were performed on a hair from the crime scene. Those tests eliminated Rodriguez as the source of the hair and, instead, pointed to Yanez. Further review of Bolding’s testimony also revealed that his conclusions contradicted accepted theory at the time and his own testimony in other court cases.

A judge ordered Rodriguez’s release from prison in 2004 and prosecutors agreed not to retry him. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals vacated the conviction, but prosecutors never would say Rodriguez was “actually innocent,” which barred him from receiving a pardon and compensation from the state.

City Attorney Arturo Michel, whose office defended the city, said officials would take a close look at the trial transcript to review questions of evidence and evaluate how the city would assess the case if it were retried before deciding whether to appeal.

“The jury was deadlocked on the issue of whether Lee Brown was deliberately indifferent,” he said. “That meant that they had difficulty coming to a conclusion on the evidence.”

One juror did tell attorneys for the city that the panel spent the majority of their deliberations discussing whether Brown had shown deliberate indifference. All eight declined to comment to the Chronicle.

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