James Woodard spent 27 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. He was released last week as a result of DNA evidence gathered through an unprecedented cooperative effort between Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, a Democrat and the first black DA in the history of Texas, and the Texas Innocence Project.
Together they re-examined hundreds of cases and have freed 17 Texas inmates so far — their effort still has 250 more cases to review. Last year NPR’s Morning Edition profiled DA Watkins. Last night 60 Minutes did a segment on the DA and the Innocence Project that featured the story of James Woodard. Convicted in the 1981 murder of his girlfriend, Woodard served 27 years and four months, the longest of any inmate in the nation to be cleared with the help of DNA.
Woodard had always maintained his innocence, he says, including every one of the 12 times he came up for parole:
“They always told me, as long as you deny your guilt its saying something about you, you know you are not willing to own up to your deed. And we gonna deny you,” Woodard says.
But Woodard refused to admit guilt. “I wasn’t guilty,” he says.
“You chose truth over freedom,” Pelley remarks.
“I mean, a man has to stand for something,” Woodard says.
A Georgia resident, I am reminded of the case of convicted “cop killer” Troy Anthony Davis who sits on death row here despite the recantations of seven witnesses who testified against him, despite the fact that no murder weapon was ever found and no physical evidence linked him to the crime, and despite the fact that he has maintained his innocence throughout.
There will be a Rally for Troy Davis at the Capitol in Atlanta on May 17.
RELATED: 60 Minutes was at the top of its game last night. Crooks & Liars and Think Progress both applaud the What Really Happened to Pat Tillman? segment. Said Pat’s mother Mary Tillman, “this isn’t about us. It’s about what they’ve done to the public. This was a public deception.”