After 27 years behind bars, Michael Anthony Green is slated for release from a Texas prison today after an investigation revealed that he was innocent of a 1983 aggravated sexual assault for which he was sentenced to 75 years in prison.
He'll be the second man wrongly-convicted of rape to be freed from a Texas jail in the past week.
Green and Allen Wayne Porter, who was released on bond last Friday after it was determined that he was not one of the three men who invaded a southwest Houston apartment in 1990 and raped two women, served a combined 46 years before a group comprised of local lawyers and investigators reviewed their cases and unearthed new facts.
In both cases, the men wrote letters from their cells for years to various lawyers and courts proclaiming their innocence. But they had never been able to get anyone to pay attention.
Now, lawyers for the two former inmates are lauding the Post Conviction Review Section, a small group of lawyers and investigators assembled in 2009 by Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos to focus on inmates' credible claims of innocence.
"In Green's case, this lingered for many, many years until the section developed," said Green's attorney Bob Wicoff, adding that Green had written letters since he was imprisoned at age 18 and had "clamored about the injustice" for years.
Porter's attorney, Casey Garrett, said that it wasn't until the Post Conviction Review Section took up her client's case that he actually began to be hopeful that he'd one day be free.
Texas' criminal justice system is notoriously harsh and the state sends more prisoners to death row than any other.
"I don't know if he ever believed he was going to get out," said Garrett. "After all these years and all of his letters falling on deaf ears for so long, he never really believed this would happen."
"[Last year] he became cautiously hopeful and he indicated to me that this was the first time he felt hopeful that something might be happening," she said.
"For 20 years he's been writing letters to people saying he's innocent and pleading with them to review his case," said Garrett. "And then in 2009 he wrote just another letter to the District Attorney's office and by then this team had been developed."
Garrett says Porter, who served 19 years of a life sentence, has expressed his gratitude to the D.A.'s office since his release last week and knows that their hard work was essential to his exoneration.
Texas' Post Conviction Review Section Proves Two Wrongful Convictions
Porter was arrested while attending the trial for his nephew, Jimmy Hatton, who had been charged as one of the assailants in the 1990 home invasion.
According to Garrett, one of the victims saw Porter in the hallway outside the courtroom and told police that she recognized him as one of her attackers. Porter was arrested, charged and later convicted with the crime, sentenced to life in prison just six months later.
Even though Hatton knew at the time that Porter was innocent he was reluctant to admit to having been at the scene and knowing that Porter was not there because of his own ongoing appeals process, according to Garrett.
It wasn't until 2003, when Hatton's DNA was found on a condom left at the scene, did he finally admit that Porter had nothing to do with the crime. But at the time, even that didn't free Porter.
"When Hatton came forward it was dismissed as him trying to help his buddy," said Garrett.
Then, in 2009, when the section received one of Porter's letters, lawyers and investigators from the group re-interviewed Hatton.
"Even one of the attorneys at first thought Hatton's claim was baseless, but because it's their job to investigate it they follow up and were able to develop more evidence [that proved Porter's innocence,]" said Garrett. "Ultimately what happened was witnesses were found, a woman who drove the perpetrators to the apartment came forward and said Porter was not involved and Hatton gave full names of the other guys who were involved."
Because the statute of limitations has passed, the two other men involved can't be prosecuted.
Two Texas Prisoners Released, Years After Crimes They Didn't Do
The work of the section similarly helped Green.
Green's case began in 1983, when four men abducted a woman at a pay phone, drove her to a remote location where three of the men raped her. The assailants eventually tossed the woman out of the car and fled, leading to a manhunt in north Houston.
Green was detained by officers looking for suspects in the area and was brought to stand before the victim in the headlights of a patrol car, according to Wicoff. The victim was unable to identify Green as her attacker but when Green's photo was included in a photo array a week later at her apartment, she recognized him.
"Of course she could identify him," said Wicoff, who claims the police mishandled the investigation. "She had seen Green just a week before."
The victim then again chose Green out of a lineup, and he became the only person to be charged with the crime.
In Green's case, one of the lawyers working for the section went back to the scene of the crime and gathered evidence herself, eventually retrieving an item of clothing worn by the victim during the offense. The DNA found on that item of clothing excluded Green and, with the help of the DNA database, led to the four men responsible for the crime.
As in Porter's case, the statute of limitations has run out, so the four men can longer be prosecuted either.
Both Green and Porter's exonerations will depend on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granting relief of their convictions. A spokeswoman for the court said that from the time they receive an inmate's writ it typically takes "weeks" for the exoneration to be granted.
Once exonerated, both men stand to receive $80,000 for every year they were unlawfully incarcerated. Green alone stands to receive more than $2 million under the state statute.
Green, Porter Cases Highlight Success of Post-Conviction Section
District Attorney Lykos, who is up for reelection in 2012, told ABC News that while she's proud of the work the section has accomplished thus far, there is still much more work to do be done.
"In these two cases the system worked far too slowly," said Lykos. "We are investigating every single claim of innocence."
"Whenever an innocent person is imprisoned, you have a triple injustice," said Lykos. "An injustice for those who are wrongfully confined, a denial of justice for the victim and a lack of justice for society."
Lykos said that the victims of the crimes Green and Porter were accused of are aware of the wrongful convictions but have asked for their privacy to be respected.
Garrett says that she's encouraged by the section's work but still thinks about who else might be sitting in prison for crimes they didn't commit.
"The committee is a start. It's a very important start.," she said. "They have the time, the resources, the specific mission to look at these cases where as before it fell on people who had a million other responsibilities."
"The system generally works, yes, but it's these situations that I worry about," said Garrett, who added that she "wouldn't be surprised" if there were more cases like Green's and Porter's.
"When you have horrific case like you have in mine and and Green's jurors are blinded by the facts and are sometimes not as willing to be skeptical because they're afraid they're going to let a guilty guy go," she said. "The fear of letting a guilty guy go should be on the same plane of fear of convicting an innocent man."