Two men who spent 15 years behind bars in the 1999 murder of a Texas pastor were later released and declared “actually innocent.”,
Ex-Prosecutor Who Withheld Evidence in Murder Case Gives Up Law License
Two men who spent 15 years behind bars in the 1999 murder of a Texas pastor were later released and declared “actually innocent.”
Stanley Mozee, left, in 2014 after he and Dennis Allen, not pictured, were released from prison after spending 15 years behind bars for a 1999 murder in Dallas. They were later exonerated.Credit…G.J. McCarthy/The Dallas Morning News, via Associated Press
In 2000, Stanley Mozee and Dennis Allen were sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a Texas pastor who had been stabbed 47 times at a store he owned.
But the two have always maintained their innocence, and after they spent 15 years behind bars, an investigation uncovered evidence that indicated, at the very least, that they had not been granted a fair trial, and they were freed on bond in 2014. Investigations by the Innocence Project, the Innocence Project of Texas and the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office continued, unearthing evidence that eventually proved Mr. Mozee’s and Mr. Allen’s innocence. Much of the material was in the lead prosecutor’s files the whole time.
In 2018 their convictions were thrown out, and in 2019 — after new DNA testing cast doubt on their involvement — a judge declared Mr. Mozee and Mr. Allen “actually innocent.”
Now, the former lead prosecutor in the case, Richard E. Jackson, who the State Bar of Texas said had withheld evidence during the trial, has surrendered his law license and effectively been disbarred — a relatively rare consequence in the realm of wrongful convictions.
“It’s impossible to overstate just how horrific the consequences were of Mr. Jackson’s actions,” said Nina Morrison, an Innocence Project lawyer who worked on the case. “They were sentenced to life in prison and could well have served that entire time and died in prison had Mr. Jackson himself not preserved the evidence of their innocence in his own files.”
The State Bar of Texas found that Mr. Jackson’s “professional misconduct” was “conclusively established for all purposes.” He surrendered his law license last month in lieu of discipline, an action that has the same effect as if he had been disbarred. He is not allowed to practice law in the state, according to the order, which was reported earlier by The Dallas Morning News.
“Richard E. Jackson’s resignation is in the best interest of the public, the profession, and Richard E. Jackson,” the order said.
Mr. Mozee’s and Mr. Allen’s fight for justice has stretched for more than two decades. The two were charged with murdering the Rev. Jesse Borns, 70, a lay pastor in South Dallas who was found fatally stabbed at his leather and woodworking store on April 7, 1999, according to court documents.
The police believed that the stabbing had occurred during a robbery, as Mr. Borns’s credit cards were stolen, The Morning News reported at the time. Court records show that informants pointed them toward Mr. Mozee and Mr. Allen, local men experiencing homelessness who performed odd jobs around the neighborhood.
They were convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2000. But the court, prompted by an Innocence Project investigation, found that Mr. Jackson had withheld evidence that could have cleared Mr. Mozee and Mr. Allen of wrongdoing. Among other discrepancies, he presented false testimony and did not disclose benefits given to jailhouse informants who testified on behalf of the prosecution, court records show.
Further, a witness who did not positively identify Mr. Mozee from a pretrial lineup was not called to testify by the state, according to court records. And the prosecution suppressed “non-identification evidence” from witnesses who said they saw two men with different physical characteristics than Mr. Mozee and Mr. Allen arguing with Mr. Borns before his death.
During the trial, the prosecution relied on a confession written by a detective and signed by Mr. Mozee that was most likely forced after intense interrogation, Ms. Morrison said.
There was “no reliable evidence whatsoever that they were involved in the murder, and a lot of evidence pointing away from them and pointing toward two still unidentified men,” she said.
In 2019, after DNA evidence pointed away from Mr. Mozee and Mr. Allen, Judge Raquel Jones declared them “actually innocent” and granted a motion submitted by the Dallas County district attorney to dismiss all charges against them.
No one else has been charged in the murder, and the case remains unsolved.
Much of the new evidence in the case came to light in part because of an “open file” policy, which allows lawyers for convicted people to look through the prosecutor’s trial file. The policy was adopted in 2008 by Craig Watkins, the district attorney for Dallas County, who was elected as the first Black district attorney in Texas in 2007. Mr. Watkins discharged Mr. Jackson and others when he took office.
Mr. Jackson, who is white, sued Mr. Watkins, claiming that Mr. Watkins had fired him because of his race. The lawsuit was dismissed by a judge.
Richard E. Jackson, who was an assistant district attorney in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, in 2002. He surrendered his law license last month.Credit…Andy Scott/The Dallas Morning News, via Associated Press
Efforts to reach Mr. Jackson and his lawyer, Bob Hinton, on Monday were not immediately successful. Mr. Hinton told The Morning News that his client had long maintained that he had given the evidence to the defense and still believed that Mr. Mozee and Mr. Allen were guilty.
The Morning News reported that Mr. Jackson retired from practicing law in 2013.
According to a 2020 report from the National Registry of Exonerations, researchers found that prosecutors across the country committed misconduct in 30 percent of the 2,400 exoneration cases studied, including “concealing of exculpatory evidence and misconduct at trial, and a substantial amount of witness tampering.” Among those, only 4 percent received any form of formal discipline. Mr. Jackson is only the fourth prosecutor to lose his license over a wrongful conviction, according to the registry. Two other cases have also involved prosecutors in Texas.
“There’s a growing awareness among the public about the enormous power and discretion of prosecutors, and like police officers when they are caught flagrantly and openly abusing that power with devastating consequences, the public is increasingly demanding accountability,” Ms. Morrison said.
Mr. Allen, now 57, said in an interview on Monday that Mr. Jackson’s losing his license was “a step in the right direction” for justice that “signifies his admission of guilt.”
He said he hoped it serves as an example for other prosecutors and “will make them think twice about not doing the right thing.”
The state of Texas compensates wrongfully convicted people, including Mr. Allen and Mr. Mozee, who is now 62, a lump sum of $80,000 for each year they were imprisoned, plus a yearly allotment, according to state law.
But the money pales in comparison to what they suffered during 15 years in prison, plus time beyond that it took to clear their names, Mr. Allen said. “You can’t make up for everything that you took in the prime of my life, along with trauma anguish, along with the abuse in prison, along with the death threats, along with the attempts on my life,” he said. “No amount of money could ever compensate for something like that.”
These days, Mr. Allen lives a quiet life in Dallas County, he said, where he tries to spread messages of hope.
“I believe that there are good people out there — the Innocence Project has proven that — so if anyone is going through something similar to this, I would just say not to give up, keep fighting, maintain your dignity, your integrity,” Mr. Allen said. “There truly are people in this country, you know, in the world that want to help, just hold on.”