Dallas Morning News

Dallas man freed after 27 years behind bars for rapes he did not commit

By JENNIFER EMILY Staff Writer jemily@dallasnews.com
Published 12 May 2011 10:26 AM

DNA testing has freed another wrongly convicted man in Dallas County.

State District Judge Don Adams on Thursday ordered that Johnny Pinchback be released after the district attorney’s office and the Innocence Project of Texas said DNA testing proves he is innocent.

Pinchback, 55, pleaded not guilty in 1984 but was convicted by a jury in the sexual assault of two teenage girls and sentenced 99 years in prison.

Pinchback was released to hugs, handshakes and cries of joy a little over an hour after the hearing. He had to return to the jail to complete paperwork.

He plans to join his wife, mother, siblings, attorneys and other exonerees for a steak lunch.

Pinchback said he never doubted he would be freed one day because he held on to hope and God during his 27 years behind bars.

“It was pretty hard. But I trusted in God,” he said. “I knew one day I would be a free man.”

Still he said, he would see other exonerations on TV and wonder, “When is it my turn?”

After being hugged by fellow exonerees in the courtroom, Pinchback yelled, “Where’s my wife?”

His wife, Sandra Pinchback, began making her way to the front of the courtroom. But his mother, Lillian Bunton, reached Pinchback first. Bunton smiled through her tears as she held on to her son.

“I love you. Everything’s going to be OK,” Pinchback told his mother.

“I know. I know,” Bunton said.

Then Pinchback kissed and hugged his wife, brothers and sisters and other well wishers. By the end of the lengthy procession, he had makeup stains on both sides of his white suit from all the hugs.

Victor Thomas, an Ellis County exoneree who served time in prison with Pinchback, said that Pinchback encouraged him and others not to give up in pursuing their innocence. Thomas said he was glad to see his friends prayers answered Thursday.

“He encouraged us. We’ve got a lot of respect for him,” Thomas said. “He would say, ‘You’ve got to go to the law library and not out into the yard’” for recreation.

Pinchback will be the 22nd man cleared by DNA testing in Dallas County, which has more exonerations than any county in the nation since 2001, largely because the county preserved more evidence from past crimes.

Like all but one of Dallas County’s DNA exonerations, Pinchback was convicted based on faulty eyewitness testimony. The girls were walking in Oak Cliff when they were held at gunpoint, ordered into a vacant lot, tied up and raped.

They identified Pinchback as their attacker in photo lineups and at his trial.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said after the hearing that Pinchback’s case illustrates yet again the need for the Texas Legislature to pass bills reforming eyewitness identification procedures and rules on the storage of evidence.

Watkins urged voters to call their representatives about passing the bills.

“I would ask that everyone who sees this travesty do something about it,” Watkins said.

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