THE PURPOSE OF THE SITE
In 2014, research revealed that as many as 4% of capital punishment sentences are wrongful convictions.1 Four percent of capital punishment sentences resulted in people being placed in jail for crimes they did not commit.
In 2013, Texas led the country in exonerations. While commendable, our mission is to try to eradicate these errors so that no man or woman should spend time in prison for a crime they did not commit.
Through this website, the Texas Young Lawyers Association and the Texas State Bar seek to educate lawyers on both sides of the bar, as well as the general public, to reduce the risk of wrongful convictions.
FORMER DISTRICT ATTORNEY
Since graduating from the University of Texas Law School with honors in 1988, Tim Cole has represented parties involved in every aspect of criminal law. He began as general counsel for the Texas District & County Attorneys, served as counsel to Governor Bill Clements, and became an assistant district attorney for Wise County. He was elected District Attorney for the 97th Judicial District, Montague County, Texas in 1993 at age 33, a position to which he was re-elected until 2006. In 2006, Tim Cole left public service to become a criminal defense attorney. Mr. Cole is board certified in Criminal Law and Criminal Appellate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
He served as President and has been a member of the board of directors for the Texas District & County Attorneys Association. He is also a member of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and serves as an adjunct professor at the UNT Dallas College of Law.
Mr. Cole’s work in high-profile murder cases has been covered in publications such as Texas Monthly, and he has appeared as a guest on ABC’s Prime Time Live, A&E Network, Discovery Investigation Channel and the Bio channel to discuss issues related to the death penalty. In addition, he has written on his own personal experience with the death penalty as a prosecutor, in a March 2013 article, titled, “The Death Penalty Has a Face.”
Mr. Cole continues to represent defendants in criminal matters and has tried over 150 jury trials.
Ms. Hawk served as Dallas County’s District Attorney.
Ms. Hawk is a 1992 graduate of Texas Tech University and received her law degree from Texas Wesleyan University in 1995. Prior to serving as the elected District Attorney of Dallas County, Ms. Hawk was elected three times as presiding judge of the 291st Judicial District Court, where she disposed of approximately 35,000 criminal cases. For her contributions on the bench, Ms. Hawk was named “Best Rookie Judge of the Year” by the Dallas Observer. Moreover, Ms. Hawk was also the recipient of the “Justinian Award” from the National Association for the Mentally Ill for her efforts helping.
Before her time on the bench, Ms. Hawk served as a felony prosecutor, where she tried more than 150 jury trials, including serious felonies of rape, assault, and seven capital murder cases. During her tenure as a felony prosecutor, Ms. Hawk was named “Prosecutor of the Year” by the Greater Dallas Crime Commission. Ms. Hawk is no stranger to criminal law and her advice and insight into wrongful convictions is truly educational.
Patricia Cummings is the Special Fields Bureau Chief at the Dallas County District Attorneys’ Office and is in charge of the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU). The purpose of the CIU is to investigate cases involving claims of wrongful conviction, actual innocence, or both. The CIU also has an educational component designed to prevent wrongful convictions through continued education training for attorneys and law enforcement.
Ms. Cummings is a graduate of the University of Texas and the University of Houston Law Center, and is certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in both juvenile and criminal law. Ms. Cummings started her career as briefing attorney for the Eighth District Court of Appeals. Next, Ms. Cummings served as the County Juvenile Prosecutor for the Williamson County Attorneys’ Office.
After these experiences in public service, Ms. Cummings practiced criminal law in private practice. Now, Ms. Cummings has returned to public service, overseeing the CIU at the Dallas County District Attorneys’ Office.
Ms. Cummings was recently awarded the Travis County Women’s Lawyers’ Association Criminal Justice Attorney Award and the State Bar Staff Appreciation Award for Outstanding Volunteer. Ms. Cumming’s insight into causes of wrongful convictions and what we can do to address those causes is insightful and can be put into practice now.
Mr. Burger is a partner at Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal, L.L.P. He handles a wide range of litigation matters, including oil and gas, breach of contract, and tortious injury lawsuits, as well as business ownership disputes, real estate, and discrimination claims. He also works with solo practitioners and smaller firms in need of his expertise. In such situations, Neil tailors his services to the unique demands of the case. His skills have brought him a wide commercial practice and recognition on Texas Monthly’s Super Lawyer listing in business litigation for 2013 and 2014.
Although his practice for the most part involves representing individuals and corporations in business disputes, Mr. Burger has critical insight into issues surrounding wrongful convictions from his work on the case of Manuel Velez. He and fellow Carrington Coleman lawyers worked to secure the release of Mr. Velez from death row in Texas. The court held that Mr. Velez’s original counsel had been ineffective, having failed to thoroughly investigate and present evidence of innocence. “I was the first person from our firm to meet with our client on death row. The initial challenge is building that relationship,” Neil said. “He could tell that for the first time he had a team of people fighting for him.” The fight paid off. In October 2014, Mr. Velez was freed from prison, in large part due to Mr. Burger and his colleagues’ efforts.
Mr. Bittle is a partner in the law firm Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal, L.L.P. For 25 years, he has handled a variety of cases involving highly complex issues at both the trial and appellate levels.
Clients rely on Mr. Bittle to handle their most complex coverage issues. Not only does he lead the Carrington Coleman insurance practice, he is also a past chair of the Insurance Coverage Litigation Committee of the ABA’s Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section (TIPS), and has been recognized as a Texas Super Lawyer in insurance coverage.
In the appellate realm, Lyndon is Board Certified in Civil Appellate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and listed in The Best Lawyers in America for 2016. Clients have trusted Lyndon with complex, high-profile matters, including two recent reversals of shareholder-oppression judgments and guiding the City of Dallas through parallel state and federal appeals to resolve disputes about regulating flights at Love Field.
Although most of his work is in the civil realm, Mr. Bittle’s insight to issues surrounding wrongful convictions stems in large part from the case of Manuel Velez, work for which is he especially proud. Mr. Bittle led a team of pro bono attorneys that helped secure the release of Mr. Velez, a man wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. Mr. Bittle and his team convinced the trial and appellate courts that the client’s previous attorneys had not adequately investigated or presented evidence of innocence. Mr. Velez was freed from prison in 2014. The firm’s work in that case was chronicled in Texas Monthly and honored by an Exceptional Service Award from the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project and the ABA-TIPS Law in Public Service Honor Roll Award.
Juan Roberto Meléndez-Colón was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1951 and subsequently lived in Puerto Rico, Florida, and Pennsylvania. While working as a migrant farmer in Pennsylvania, he was arrested for the 1983 murder of Delbert Baker in Florida. The crime in Juan’s case was particularly brutal. The victim, Delbert Baker, was a white man, who was shot three times and his throat slashed.
Mr. Meléndez-Colón could not read or write English, let alone afford an attorney. At trial, he was convicted and sentenced to death in a week, even though there was no physical evidence against him. The evidence against him was primarily the testimony of a criminal informant who had a grudge against Mr. Melendez-Colon. He spent 17 years, eight months, and one day on Florida’s death row, before being exonerated in 2002.
His execution was prevented, in large part, by a fortuitous discovery of a transcript of the taped confession of Mr. Baker’s killer 16 years after the events. The discovery led to an investigation that revealed the prosecutor had withheld exculpatory evidence.
Since his release, Mr. Meléndez-Colón tours the world to tell his personal story and discuss issues surrounding the death penalty. He is a member of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and Journey of Hope . . . from Violence to Healing.
Judge David Newell serves on the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals. Judge Newell graduated from the University of Houston, and received his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law.
Judge Newell began his legal career in public service, serving at the Fort Bend County District Attorneys’ Office, and later, in the Harris County District Attorneys’ Office. In total, prior to taking the bench, Judge Newell served as an appellate prosecutor for sixteen years.
In addition to his continued public service, Judge Newell served as the Chairman of the Editorial Board for the Texas District and County Attorney’s journal, The Texas Prosecutor. Judge Newell is board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in both criminal law and criminal appellate law. In 2013, Judge Newell was honored with the C. Chris Marshall Award for Distinguished Faculty from the Texas District and County Attorneys’ Association. Judge Newell’s contribution to this project is sincerely appreciated.
Gammon David Guinn is a graduate of St. Mary’s University School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Juris Doctor, 1986. He also achieved a Bachelor of Arts, from St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, Texas in 1980. From 1994 to present, Gammon practices Criminal and Juvenile Defense Litigation, primarily in San Antonio, Texas. He has over sixty Felony Jury Trials – over fifty-five as lead counsel. In addition, Gammon has over forty-five Misdemeanor Jury Trials – over forty of these as lead counsel.
In addition to Criminal and Juvenile Defense litigation, Gammon also provides Civil Plaintiff and Defense Representation. Over forty causes resolved with two Jury Trials – one as lead counsel. From 1987-1994, Gammon was the Assistant District Attorney Criminal and Juvenile Prosecution in Bear County. He was involved with Over one hundred Felony Jury Trials – over ninety as lead counsel. In addition, Gammon worked on Over fifty-five Misdemeanor Jury Trials – over twenty-five as lead Counsel.
Gammon is involved with San Antonio Criminal Lawyers Association, San Antonio, Texas and a member and contributing writer to the "Defender" Texas Bar College, State Bar of Texas, 1988-1992, 2015-present and the Criminal Law Section, State Bar of Texas, 1994-2001.
Mr. Scott spent almost thirteen years in prison for a crime he did not commit. A Dallas jury sentenced him to life in prison for a 1997 murder. The only evidence tying Mr. Scott to the crime was testimony of a mistaken eyewitness. In 2005, however, the real killer confessed to the murder. After his exoneration in 2009, Mr. Scott began an organization called House of Renewed Hope to provide assistance investigating cases for others still incarcerated, who are wrongfully convicted, and to engage in lobbying efforts for criminal justice and exoneree-related reform.
Born and raised in Beaumont, Texas, Baylor Wortham is a graduate of Monsignor Kelly Catholic High School. He continued his education at Baylor University, earning a Bachelor of Business Administration in information technology. After graduation, he attended Baylor Law School where he earned a Juris Doctorate degree in General Civil Litigation. While in law school, Baylor was a member of the Baylor Law Review, where he served as Senior Technology Editor.
Afterward, Baylor returned to Beaumont where he started his law career in April 2006 as an Assistant District Attorney with the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office. Over the course of his tenure with the DA’s office, Baylor served as the chief prosecutor for Judge John Paul Davis in County Court at Law #3 as well as Judge Lupe Flores in County Court at Law #2. In 2009, Baylor was appointed as a Special Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas where he was tasked with combating violent crime in Port Arthur, Texas. In 2011, Baylor successfully prosecuted several ranking members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas prison gang for their involvement in a 2009 shooting of a Nederland man. In December 2012, Baylor was elevated to the position of Assistant United States Attorney, where he prosecuted organized crime and complex drug trafficking cases involving the Mexican Drug Cartels. In 2015, Baylor assisted in the prosecution and conviction of Juan Francisco Saenz-Tamez, the former head of the Mexican Gulf Cartel.
Baylor has continuously served on board of directors for the Texas Young Lawyer’s association since 2010 and also the Jefferson County Young Lawyer’s Association since 2008. Currently, Baylor serves as the District 25 Representative to the American Bar Association Young Lawyer’s Division, as the ABA YLD lesion to the Texas Young Lawyer’s Association, and is the Vice President of the Jefferson County Young Lawyer’s Association.
Anthony Graves spent over 18 years in prison—twelve of those years in solitary confinement—for a crime he did not commit. In 1994, Mr. Graves was convicted of assisting Robert Carter murder six people in Somerville, Texas, a small town just north of Houston. Mr. Graves’s conviction was premised on Carter’s testimony that Graves helped him commit the crime. No hard evidence connected Graves to these multiple murders. In fact, the evidence of the crime pointed directly to Carter. During the investigation and at trial, Carter’s attempt of deflecting his responsibility for the crime was not fully explored, even though several witnesses could account for Mr. Graves the night of the murder. Nevertheless, Mr. Graves was convicted and found himself in a Texas prison for over 18 years. Ultimately, the Fifth Circuit concluded that the district attorney who prosecuted Mr. Graves withheld favorable evidence and used false testimony to secure a conviction.
Since his release in 2010, Mr. Graves travels to speaking engagements and Continuing Legal Education programs, telling his story. Mr. Graves has also started the Anthony Graves Foundation with the following mission: To promote fairness and effect reform in the criminal justice system. Mr. Graves also serves on the board of the Houston Forensic Science Center.
In 1986, Michael Morton was a supermarket manager in Texas and a husband and father. As he says of his family, “I’ve often felt how almost excruciatingly average we were, a chunk out of a demographic study: the house, the yard, the kid, the car. We had everything but the picket fence. It was good.”
Michael Morton’s life, however, took a horrific turn that same year: his wife was murdered in their bed, and he was convicted of that murder, despite any evidence pointing to his guilt and tremendous evidence showing his innocence.
This project was made possible thanks
to a generous grant from the
Texas Bar Foundation