DALLAS - With an apology and two handshakes, Dallas County judge Susan Hawk declared the innocence of two Dallas men who spent nearly half their lives behind bars for a crime DNA evidence proved they did not commit.
Raymond Jackson, now in his late 60s, and James Williams, 54, served nearly 30 years behind bars after their convictions back in 1984 in the rape and shooting of a Dallas woman who was left for dead.
Both men said their convictions were based mostly on eyewitness accounts. Today, they said they received a public acknowledgment of what they knew all along, their innocence. They gave credit to those who worked hard to help prove their innocence through DNA testing.
Jackson and Williams got out on parole last year. This morning, the two were exonerated in front of their loved ones. Also in the courtroom were 10 more men with similar stories. They too served time for crimes they didn't commit, later freed because of DNA evidence. They offered their support for Jackson and Williams, and also received a standing ovation from those attending the exoneration.
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said DNA evidence from the crime has now helped identify the newly alleged perpetrators, Marion Sayles and Frederick Anderson, who have been indicted for attempted capital murder.
The victim of the aggravated assault has agreed to return to Dallas County to help prosecutors make their case. After surviving the near fatal assault, the victim moved out of the country years ago.
The Dallas County district attorney said the state has more work to do in freeing men wrongly put behind bars for crimes they didn't commit. Watkins said he hopes the state makes it a top priority in terms of also compensating the wrongly convicted men once they're freed.
In the last 10 years, Dallas County has led the way in Texas for freeing men wrongly convicted. Nearly two dozen have been freed based on DNA evidence alone.
Watkins has been a major crusader in the cause. When elected to office in 2007, he created the convictions integrity unit, which has played a major role in the exoneration.
As for future plans for Dallas County's newest exonerees? Jackson said he is hoping to start a jewelry business. Mr. Williams has re-connected with his childhood sweetheart, and as she told News 8 they're now engaged to be married.