Thursday, September 18, 2008

Michael Blair's Exoneration Brings Innocence List Total to 130

From Death Penalty Information Center:
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Michael Blair's Exoneration Brings Innocence List Total to 130

WASHINGTON, DC - A Collin County court in Texas has dismissed capital murder
charges against Michael Blair who had been on death row for the 1993 murder of
Ashley Estell. After more than a decade of legal appeals and requests for
DNA testing, the hair evidence that had been used to convict Blair was shown
to be mistaken. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found that no reasonable
jury would convict Blair based on the existing evidence.

The District Attorney's office filed a motion to dismiss the charges on August
25 stating, "It has been determined that this case should be dismissed in the
interest of justice so that the offense charged in the indictment can be
further investigated." The Plano Police Department is now reinvestigating the
15-year-old case to find the true killer. The DNA evidence that cleared Blair
indicates that another man, now deceased, is a plausible suspect in the girl's
death. Referred to only as "Suspect 4" in court documents, this possible
perpetrator showed an obsession with the victim and bought a grave plot as
close as he could get next to her resting place. He has been deceased for at
least 10 years.

The case was made famous in the mid-1990's by a series of legal reforms known
as "Ashley's Laws." Named after the victim Ashley Estell, these laws created
longer prison sentences and lifetime sex offender registration requirements.

"This case demonstrates that innocent people still face a significant risk of
execution in this country," said Richard Dieter, Executive Director of the
Death Penalty Information Center. "For every nine people executed, we find
one person on death row who should never have been convicted."

According to DPIC's innocence list, Blair is the fourth person to be
exonerated from death row in 2008 and the ninth in Texas since the death
penalty was reinstated. His case brings the total number of exonerations from
death row to 130 since 1973. Blair remains in prison on other charges.

DPIC's innocence list consists of those former death row inmates who have been
acquitted of all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row,
who have had all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row
dismissed by the prosecution, or who have been granted a complete pardon based
on evidence of innocence.

This dismissal comes on the heels of a statement by Dallas County District
Attorney Craig Watkins that he will re-examine nearly 40 death penalty
convictions and would halt executions, if necessary, to give the reviews time
to proceed. After an exoneration of an innocent man in his first week in
office and a total of 19 DNA-based (non-death penalty) exonerations in his
county, Watkins wanted to ensure that no innocent people were executed during
his tenure. "I don't want someone to be executed on my watch for something
they didn't do," explained Watkins. Texas leads the country in executions
with 414, including 9 this year.

To arrange an interview with DPIC's Executive Director, for more information
about the innocence list, or contact information for Michael Blair's attorney,
Phillip Wischkaemper, please contact Corinne Farrell at (202) 289-2275 or

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