DNA Exoneree Makes Up For Lost Time

In 1992, Bill Clinton became president, and Hurricane Andrew ravaged South Florida.  It was also the year Dallas-native Patrick Waller was sent to prison for a crime he did not commit.

16 years later, DNA evidence cleared him of the crime.

Waller was finally released from his nightmare last July, and is still working hard to look and feel as normal as possible. He says it is not easy.

"I can't expect to come out and pick up where I left off," Waller said.

In 1992, Waller was living the fast life on the streets of Dallas. He'd been in trouble for cocaine possession, and was on probation the day he realized police were swarming his mother's home. Police told him he was being arrested for robbery.

"I didn't rob nobody," Waller said he told them.

But there had been a robbery in the West End entertainment district of Dallas. Four people were abducted and a woman was raped. Waller's picture was placed in a photo lineup, and for some reason three of the victims identified him as their attacker.

Just days before his 23rd birthday, Waller faced a lifetime of imprisonment.

"After they sentenced me, that night when I got back to my cell, and they cut the lights off, (that's) when I knew what I was facing and I didn't know which way to go to try to get out of it,"  Waller said. "The tears came then."

According to the Innocence Project, witness mis-identification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide.
Another reason is poor defense.

Waller said his first attorney was the cheapest he could find, and had no experience handling such a major case. A second attorney charged him $5,000, only to file a motion for a new trial too late.

Waller believes it was race and money keeping the score behind bars.

"When I got arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced, our county jails were full of guys like me," he said. "Nineteen, 20, 22-year-old young males, mostly minorities, Hispanic and black, that were basically getting railroaded."

Waller was one of the first people to apply for post-conviction DNA testing after it became available in 2001. He was denied and spent several more years in prison, until Dallas County elected a new district attorney, Craig Watkins, who made it a priority to free wrongly-convicted prisoners.


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