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Texas Releases Man After 27 Wrongful Years in Prison

Texas released James Lee Woodard from prison, after he served 27 years for the murder of a young girl in 1981. Hold your outrage for one second — Woodard wasn't released because the state was facing a budget crisis like we discussed earlier. Instead, DNA evidence proved that Woodard was wrongly convicted. He served almost three decades behind bars for a murder he did not commit.

Faulty evidence put Woodard in jail for the rape and murder of his girlfriend. As Woodard recounts his conviction, he was sure that he would soon be released once the police properly investigated. He had an alibi — he had been cheating on his girlfriend and was at the other woman's house the night of the murder. Even so, infidelity is more forgivable than murder.

The tough on crime mentality has helped America obtain 25 percent of the world's prisoners, even though it only has two percent of the total global population. It appears that such a political climate has also resulted in wrongful convictions.

DNA has exonerated 17 men from Dallas, almost all black. To find out what Dallas's new District Attorney thinks about this,


District Attorney Craig Watkins is the first black DA in Texas. He is changing the face of Texas justice, trying to eradicate dangerous prosecutorial abuse. This Thursday, the state is holding a Summit on Wrongful Convictions in Texas.

Does this case make you worry about other innocent people sitting in prison? Can society ever compensate someone like James Lee Woodard for the years that were stolen from him? Are we destined to have a criminal justice system that makes some serious errors, or is that why we have reasonable doubt?


Join The Conversation
Great-Sommelier Great-Sommelier 9 years
The state didn't find him guilty. A jury of his peers did. That is how the justice system works. If an inmate is later released, why should he be rewarded huge amounts of money? It sucks, sure, it is an awful thing to happen, but why does someone always have to pay? Sometimes crap happens. Shouldn't he just be happy he got out?
THEQueen THEQueen 9 years
xoxoandrea, God Bless your husband! and all those serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Personally, I LOVE MY COUNTRY...I just don't love those running it. I did not hear Michelle Obama's comment so I can't speak about it. But...the 'HORRIFIC VIOLATIONS OF THEIR RIGHTS BY THEIR GOVERNMENTS' is the same thing that goes on in PRISONS well as some nursing homes...children's homes. And most mental institutions have been closed and those people have been dumped into PRISONS! And this is AMERICA, Darlin'. When 130 innocent men have been kept in prison for as long as 27 years, there has been GROSS ineptitude, to say the least, in our justice system... and when they are released they are ill prepared to face the FREE WORLD...or simply ILL!...there should be a HUMANE SOCIETY FOR PRISONERS to see they are cared for as well as our PETS! And we should be OUTRAGED!
xoxoandrea xoxoandrea 9 years
Hearing people say that they are not proud to be an American makes me want to cry. My husband is fighting for your rights now in Afghanistan, previously in Iraq. The horrific violations of their rights by their governments and the treatment these women face every single day is horrific. Makes it really clear why people love America but hates Americans. We are so spoiled. This man was freed, in many countries he would have been executed. While this is absolutely a tragedy- he is a free man now. In many counties he would have never been given the opportunity to ever be free. So think about this the next time you want to say you are not proud to be an American- right before you move to another country to actually want to be a part of.
THEQueen THEQueen 9 years
The Death Penalty Information Center has the list of 129 men exonerated from death row. James Lee Woodard makes 130. This shows the race and length of time incarcerated of each man. I currently write to an inmate on death row here in Ohio, and was a volunteer visitor on death row in Tennessee for 2 years when I lived there. (1996 - 1998) Both of these men are Black. The one I write to is claiming innocence and he has been on death row for 23 years. He is on his last appeal and feels if he loses he has less than 2 years to live. I had always assumed the man I visited in Nashville was guilty. He was scheduled for execution September 26, 2007, when Governor Bredesen issued a stay. During this time, I found information on the website of Amnesty International which has caused me to believe this man also may be innocent. If you're wondering why I didn't ask him, it's because we were cautioned against discussing their cases. I simply visited a man who had not had a visitor in 10 and a half years. Ohio released a man who was innocent, who won a couple million in a lawsuit... but he died before he could get much enjoyment from it. I'm going on memory here, but the point I wanted to make is this man died because of his years in prison...Inadequate health care, poor nutrition, lack of exercise AND even lack of FRESH AIR. It really makes no difference if a person is guilty or innocent, prisoners are grossly mistreated. Their punishment is supposed to be loss of FREEDOM, not this! The case of this man who died is VERY TYPICAL of one who has been incarcerated for many years. Some don't even make it to their execution date. Jeff Dicks died in prison in Tennessee, age 39, with a heart attack. He was innocent. I met his mother... Oh, I could go on and on. I've had 14 years involvement with death penalty abolition groups and prison reform. MUCH needs to be done.
bellaressa bellaressa 9 years
I also loved the fact that it was made known he was cheating on his gf and it was his alibi instead of just saying he had an alibi. :lol: My other post got flagged. I guess it will be here one day.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
That's a good model for compensation. Let's hope this man gets what he deserves.
syako syako 9 years
well actually, experts in it say that the best system right now is what New York does. New York law is the best model for legislation. The compensation amount has no cap and judges decide on a case-by-case basis how much each individual will receive from the state. "Recently, they have been giving out $100,000 to $150,000 a year," Bernhard said.
popgoestheworld popgoestheworld 9 years
DNA evidence has exonerated white people, too. I don't think this is a race issue. I feel horrible for the people who are behind bars for crimes they didn't commit. It's a shame. It's definitely imperfect, but when someone's livelihood is on the line, imperfect doesn't cut it. I'm not sure what a better solution is.
bellaressa bellaressa 9 years
This type of crime happens often, check out some of the links below: I find it funny that some people I see time and time again commenting on things they have no experience on; just b/c they think they are correct instead of coming up with a conclusion that you educate yourself on. Sometimes it's best to know all facts and just put it on the table.
bellaressa bellaressa 9 years
Well I just hope they help him adjust, which I doubt they do. I wonder if he lost his family through this tragedy or did he have children they he never saw grow up. It is a sad occurrence but it happens so much in our system. Not all cases get media attention and neither does the lawsuits.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
I don't think we can adequately come up with a "proper compensation." How do you put a price tag on what a person could've made as a citizen? We could get all political, and look at what he did before incarceration, and then calculate that out of the years of the incarceration. That doesn't take into account all the years of pain and suffering though. I think he should not have to worry about money for the rest of his life.
talktotisha talktotisha 9 years
Absolutely Hypnotic! How many times do our choices have to come back and bite us in the "tookus" before we begin to make different choices? Definition of insanity = some of the choices our leadership has made...
stephley stephley 9 years
Compensation beyond earnings would seem fair - though I'd have no idea how you'd figure that. 27 years in prison as an innocent person would really mess with your head.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
I believe we are still paying for the sins of our fathers talktotisha because we keep revisiting the sins of our fathers. Humanity in general has a bad habit of not learning from history.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
Well even our closest loved ones disappoint us from time to time and America will disappoint us from time to time. She is as perfect and imperfect as her citizenry.
talktotisha talktotisha 9 years
@ UnDave, so you've felt the sting of "discrimination" too, eh? America isn't perfect...we are all still paying for the sins of our fathers...
syako syako 9 years
And I didn't really follow up... the point of the article that I wrote, is that we need to figure out a fair and decent way to compensate those who are wrongfully convicted. Some states have been passing quick legislation to cap the amount an exoneree can get (and sometimes it's really low like $15,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment). They do this so that when an exoneree sues the state for damages, they won't have to pay millions. While it may seem like a good idea to have a cap, you really can't set a price on injustice, in my opinion. AND, while I might have only made $15,000/year if I had been free all those years, who is to say that someone else wouldn't have made more, or perhaps should be compensated for more than JUST lost wages. :ponder:
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
Thanks Jillness, I stand corrected on that point. It's not about what she did in college, and she did shine. According to her, she would not have gotten into that college if she had been white. I didn't get into my first choice of colleges because I'm a white male, from an upper-middle-class family, even though I had better test scores than most of the applicants. (I know this because my friends had beter scores and got in, and I got to know several people who didn't do as well, but still got in based on their gender or race.
talktotisha talktotisha 9 years
It's funny that you just don't get it UnDave ... From where I stand - it is hard to be REALLY proud of America at times. How is it that Michelle didn't deserve to go to PRINCETON? There is a distinct difference between pride and gratitude.
Jillness Jillness 9 years
UnDave, she actually said it was the first time she was "really" proud. I think cases like this are startling, and I think our justice system could certainly be more just, but the Prosecutors and juries bear this responsibility.
stephley stephley 9 years
UD, how do you know Michelle Obama hasn't deserved everything she's ever gotten in this life? She grew up in a one bedroom apartment in Chicago, majored in sociology at Princeton University, graduating with cum laude honors, then went to law school at Harvard. She's former associate dean at the University of Chicago; a member of six boards of directors including the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and Tree House Foods; and Vice President, Community and External Affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals -- isn't what she's done with all she was 'given' evidence that she was more than deserving? Bush got into Yale as a legacy - he had average scores and an average high school career. Did he deserve it?
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
You touched on a very important recurring theme stephley. "It would probably help if we didn't press for quick arrests and convictions..." Whether it is this issue, the 2000 recount, Kuwait wanting to give up some democracy to catch up with the wealth of it's neighbors, the problem is every one wants to rush rather than allow the process to work it self out. Our justice system was not designed to be expedited or fast tracked.
megnmac megnmac 9 years
All we can hope for is to do better than they did 30 years ago. And, as hypno alludes, have PASSION for justice rather than simply convicting. As far as the 'allowing 10 guilty go free to prevent 1 innocent' saying, is that the number we are ok with? Because there actually does have to be a number, how many criminals do we want out on the streets to save 1 innocent? Is it 10? 100? 1000? Because there is never going to be a criminal justice system without some margin of error. This topic isn't something we can know with statistics, because the jury's verdict isn't always the ultimate truth. How many wrongful innocent findings are there? We'll never know. How is the current 'beyond a reasonable doubt' system going, and is it the standard we want? It is defined for juries as FIRMLY CONVINCED of the defendant's guilt. Because people that weren't there can't ever truly know... All I can say is that I only prosecute people I truly believe are guilty, and base my decisions on the evidence, and hope that juries are fair with what is presented.
cine_lover cine_lover 9 years
We will never have a perfect system. Ever. There will always be problems with wrongfully accused. Thankfully there are now advancements in technology to limit the amount of innocent who become incarcerated, but it will always happen.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
Michelle Obama said that was the FIRST time she was proud to be an American. I take exception to her comments, because she was given so much, because of her color, not because she deserved it. Her own admission is that she wouldn't have gotten into Yale (or was her undergrad at Harvard?) based solely on her score. Did she deserve to go? No. Should she be thankful and grateful? yes
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