"Rebuilding the Lives of the Wrongfully Convicted"

Dallas exonerees fight to help other wrongfully convicted inmates prove their innocence

A group of men given their freedom after years of claiming their innocence and fighting for justice are now playing detectives to exonerate inmates who they believe shouldn’t be behind bars.

Christopher Scott, Johnnie Lindsey and Billy Smith, all former inmates and exonerated, free men, were featured on NPR this week (listen below) in their mission to help Jimmy O’Steen in the same journey they all walked. Convinced of his innocence, their mission is to prove to the Texas courts that O’Steen did not commit armed robbery in 1997.

“We both been in that same chair you’re sitting in, with the same situation, so … we’re on your side until the end,” Lindsey told O’Steen, according to the NPR story. The three free men sat in an East Texas prison. “But I got one question to ask: Are you guilty?”

“No,” O’Steen answered.

It’ll be a challenge, especially because in O’Steen’s case, there is no DNA evidence to test. Many of Texas’ 87 confirmed wrongful imprisonment cases involved DNA evidence that had not been tested.

It’s a challenge Christopher Scott, a Carrollton resident freed in 2010, is willing to take on. That’s how he won his case. After 12 years and seven months in prison for a murder he did not commit and years of convincing attorneys and students to take on his case, he was freed. There was no DNA evidence; the real killer was found, confessed and was  convicted last year.

The men who are assisting O’Steen — and dozens of other exonerees have similar stories. It’s unclear how many groups like this one are out there, but these men have taken their experience to help others in their fight to prove their innocence. What’s more, they’ve made appearances during legislative sessions to push for laws curbing prosecutorial misconduct and stricter rules eyewitness identification, both leading causes for wrongful convictions.

Scott and Williamson County exoneree Michael Morton were honored as Texans of the Year by The Dallas Morning News in December. Read their stories here.

“Scott could have disappeared with his nearly $1 million state-mandated compensation and declared that Texas and its justice system could go to hell,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote. “Who would’ve blamed him? He owed nothing more to a society that stole a big piece of his life. Instead, he says he saw it as his mission not to leave other inmates behind if they have convincing claims of innocence.”

You can read more about the exonerees-turned-detectives in a story written by our Selwyn Crawford. Also read Jennifer Emily’s continued coverage of exonerations in Dallas County