Monday, October 12, 2009

Dallas inmate set to be freed after buried evidence found

By STEVE McGONIGLE and JENNIFER EMILY / The Dallas Morning News

Dallas County jurors who sent Richard Miles to prison for 40 years never knew another man had been implicated in the same shooting incident.

Richard Miles 'was in the wrong place at the wrong time,' said Jim McCloskey, president of Centurion Ministries.

It took 14 years and detective work by a prisoner advocacy group to unearth reports in police files that suggested others could have committed the murder and attempted murder that sent Miles to prison.

That discovery is set to get Miles released on Monday.

Dallas County prosecutors have agreed to dismiss his 1995 convictions because police failed to turn over exculpatory evidence.

State District Judge Andy Chatham is expected to release Miles on bond pending a final decision from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Miles' defense attorney, Cheryl Wattley, said she was optimistic he would not face a second trial.
The claim that Miles, 34, is innocent is still being investigated by the DA's office.

"We have serious questions as to whether he was convicted of a crime that was committed by someone else," said Mike Ware, who oversees the DA's conviction integrity unit.

Miles was convicted in the May 1994 shootings of Deandre Williams and Robert Ray Johnson Jr. near a gas station in the Bachman Lake area. Both men were shot multiple times while sitting in a car. Williams died. Johnson lived but was permanently disabled.

If Miles is exonerated, he would be the second man District Attorney Craig Watkins has agreed was wrongly convicted in cases that did not involve DNA evidence.

Miles would be at least the sixth Dallas County inmate in the last two years to have his conviction voided because exculpatory evidence was not disclosed.

Miles said Wednesday in a jailhouse interview that he was easy pickings for police and prosecutors. He was on probation for drug possession.

"At 3 o'clock in the morning, I'm walking home and I was the only one there," said Miles.
Miles said he had run away from home at age 18 before finishing high school. His father was a minister and his mother was a choir director.

He was estranged from his parents at the time of his arrest. But his time in prison brought them closer together, Miles said. His father died in May and Miles said he calls his mother every night.
Dallas police arrested Miles about 20 minutes after the shooting while he walked along Lemmon Avenue. Miles, then 19, told police that he was going to a friend's house to spend the night.
A witness to the shooting, Marcus Thurmond, identified Miles as the gunman after he saw police remove the handcuffed man from a patrol car. He also selected Miles' picture from a photographic lineup about an hour later.

Miles was the only man in the lineup wearing a white tank top, clothing that several witnesses ascribed to the gunman. Witnesses also said the shooter held the gun in his right hand and wore shorts. Miles is left-handed and was wearing long jeans.

"Richard Miles was in the wrong place at the wrong time wearing the wrong colored tank top," said Jim McCloskey, president of Centurion Ministries, which has been reinvestigating the case.
Six other witnesses, including the surviving victim, made no identification.

Thurmond's identification was the key state's evidence in Miles' trial in August 1995. The lead detective, Billy Hooker, testified that he had no suspects other than Miles.

Hooker, who retired before the trial, could not be reached Wednesday. The trial prosecutor, Tom D'Amore, who is now a defense attorney, did not return calls.

Miles presented an alibi defense. Two friends testified that he spent the hours before the shooting in south Oak Cliff and was headed home.

Ed Gray, Miles' court-appointed trial attorney, said he suspected that police had not been forthcoming. "I knew they were hiding something," he said. "But it was like, where do you dig when everybody denies it."

Gray said he never knew about an anonymous tip that police received in May 1995. A woman said her former boyfriend had admitted the crime to her and showed her the 9 mm pistol he said he had fired.

The report identified the alleged perpetrator as a 24-year-old drug dealer. Records show he had a criminal record for gun possession and assault. The Dallas Morning News is not publishing his name because he has not been charged with the crime.

The report remained buried until Joan Jennings, a case screener for Centurion Ministries, found a copy amid the contents of the police case file she received under an open records request.
Miles said that he first saw the report about the anonymous call in October 2007. He said that he immediately knew the withheld information would someday win his freedom.

"You're not supposed to cry in the penitentiary," Miles said. "I cried because I knew this was going to be my freedom."

Jennings also found a second police report that showed the victims had been involved in an altercation with another man five days before the shooting. That report was also withheld from Miles' defense.

Neither report was found in prosecution files in the case, bolstering the conclusion that they were never shown to the defense as required by law.

Centurion learned about the Miles case from Joyce Ann Brown, a Dallas woman that the organization helped to free.

McCloskey said he had never found a document that so clearly proved that a conviction had been obtained illegally.

"It's just manna from heaven," he said.

No comments: