DA: '83 case mishandled, but man not cleared yet
Conviction under review as prosecutor finds evidence withheld
12:00 AM CST on Saturday, March 10, 2007
By STEVE McGONIGLE / The Dallas Morning News
The Dallas County district attorney's office acknowledged Friday that prosecutors illegally withheld evidence that might have saved a man from a 1983 rape conviction and 10 years in prison.
Newly discovered evidence amassed by attorneys for James Curtis Giles "strongly suggests" that he was misidentified as one of three men involved in the gang rape, prosecutors said.
They said his conviction should be overturned, but stopped short of declaring Mr. Giles innocent. Instead, they asked state District Judge Robert Francis for an additional 30 days to investigate Mr. Giles' claim that a man with a nearly identical name was the true rapist. Prosecutors requested an April 9 hearing to present their findings.
The extraordinary admission of prosecutorial misconduct was part of a 13-page response by District Attorney Craig Watkins' office to an exoneration request last month by the Innocence Project of New York on behalf of Mr. Giles.
"That's rare," said Mike Ware, a Fort Worth defense attorney active in innocence claims. "My hat's off to them for that."
Since taking office in January, Mr. Watkins had made the investigation of allegedly wrongful convictions a priority. His office has joined two defense requests for DNA-based exonerations and agreed to a joint project with the Innocence Project of Texas to review more than 350 applications by convicted felons for genetic testing.
Vanessa Potkin, the lead defense attorney for Mr. Giles, expressed disappointment that Dallas County prosecutors had not joined her request for an innocence declaration. But she said she remains certain that Mr. Giles will be exonerated.
Innocence declarations allow the wrongfully convicted to seek state reparations up to $500,000.
"We understand their desire to be thorough," she said, "and are fully confident the more they look into the case, the more corroboration they'll find."
Mr. Giles' defense contends DNA evidence has identified two of the three rapists as neighbors of the victim. Sworn statements and other evidence, they contend, show the third man was a well-known associate of the other two attackers.
That man's name was James Earl "Quack" Giles, a teenager 10 years younger and several inches shorter than the convicted man. Quack Giles died in prison in 2000 while serving a sentence for aggravated assault and robbery.
Terri Moore, the first assistant district attorney, said the Giles case was a "clear-cut violation" of rules that prosecutors must disclose favorable evidence to the defense.
Ms. Moore, who worked as a state and federal prosecutor and defense attorney in Fort Worth before joining Mr. Watkins' staff in January, said the Giles case has caused her to worry that Dallas prosecutors may not understand the rules of evidence.
"I worry that [the disclosure law] is looked upon very narrowly, and it needs to be looked at very broadly," she said. "It's anything that would help the defense."
James Curtis Giles, a married construction worker who once lived near Duncanville, has tried for 24 years to clear himself of the conviction and 30-year prison sentence he received for the 1982 rape of an 18-year-old woman in Far North Dallas.
The victim identified Mr. Giles from a photo lineup three weeks after the assault and has never wavered in her insistence that he was one of the three armed men who broke into her apartment and repeatedly raped, beat and threatened to kill her.
Assistant District Attorney Lisa Smith, who is supervising the review of Mr. Giles' exoneration request, said the victim recently repeated her identification and did not recognize a photo of the other man Mr. Giles' defense calls the real assailant.
Investigators are hoping to locate the victim's former husband and a former neighbor, both of whom were in the apartment during the rape but neither of whom was called as a witness at Mr. Giles' trial.
The victim was the prosecution's only witness.
The evidence that prosecutors acknowledged was illegally suppressed were two statements from Stanley G. Bryant, who was jailed in Indiana on unrelated charges. Police there interviewed him on behalf of the Dallas district attorney's office.
In the statements, dated four days apart in May 1983, Mr. Bryant describes his accomplices in the rape as two teenagers named "Michael" and "James" who lived next door to each other and near the crime scene.
Last June, DNA evidence identified Michael Anthony Brown as one of the rapists. In December, Dallas police matched a fingerprint left at the crime scene to Mr. Brown, who died in 1985 after being arrested for another gang rape in East Texas.
Mr. Brown lived across the street from the rape scene. His sister told the Innocence Project that Michael's close friend, "Quack" Giles, lived next door.
A pre-trial memorandum from the lead prosecutor, dated the day after Mr. Bryant's first statement to police, called his testimony "key to this case," but did not elaborate. The district attorney's office permitted The Dallas Morning News to review the prosecution case files.
It's not clear from the records why Mr. Bryant's statements, describing a man younger than James Curtis Giles, would help the prosecution.
Kerry Fitzgerald, Mr. Giles trial attorney, said in an affidavit he never saw Mr. Bryant's statements. Mr. Fitzgerald is now a justice on the state Court of Appeals in Dallas.
Carolyn Hovey, lead detective in the Giles case, and Mike O'Connor, lead prosecutor, maintained in separate interviews they had no recollection of Mr. Bryant's statements, which the files show were taken at their request.
"I'm under an obligation," said Mr. O'Connor, now in private law practice in Bryan. "If I had seen something that was exculpatory, I would have turned it over."
Ms. Smith said she believes the statements were sent by Indianapolis police to Ms. Hovey but cannot determine when they became part of the district attorneys' files.
But the details of how the statements failed to be disclosed are irrelevant under the law, Ms. Smith said, because Indianapolis police "were acting at our behest, and so they were a member of the prosecution team."