Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dallas County releases deaf man after two decades of wrongful suspicion and imprisonment for sex crime he didn't commit

From The Dallas Morning News:

Stephen Matthew Brodie (pictured) walked out of the Dallas County Jail a free man Tuesday, nearly 20 years after first declaring his innocence and 24 hours after a judge finally agreed with him.

"I was not worrying about it," a smiling Brodie, who is deaf, said through an American Sign Language interpreter. He said he was just happy to be free.

After 18 hours of questioning over eight days – much of it with no sign language interpreter present – Brodie had pleaded guilty in 1993 to abducting the girl from her home and forcing her to perform a sex act. He had come to investigators' attention when he was arrested and confessed to breaking into a vending machine at a community pool not far from the girl's home.

Brodie walked out of jail about noon Sept. 28 with his arms raised in the air and holding hands with his attorneys, Dallas County public defenders Michelle Moore and Julie Doucet.

Other onlookers applauded, and while most clapped the traditional way, others clapped in American Sign Language by holding their arms up and wiggling their fingers.

Brodie, who has been deaf since contracting meningitis at age 18 months, said he was looking forward to riding horses again and eating lunch with his father and friends.

As he addressed the media, he took a gulp of Dr Pepper.

"That's the only thing I missed a lot," he signed.

Although Levario cleared Brodie of the sex crime Sept. 27 after a three-hour hearing, he was serving prison time for failing to register as a sex offender in Lamar County and needed to be released on that case, as well. Because he did not commit the sex crime, there was no need for him to register.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, who created the conviction integrity unit to re-examine questionable convictions, apologized to Brodie, as he has to every man exonerated since he took office in 2007.

Brodie's father, who adopted Brodie at age 6, put his arm around Watkins and said, "I tell you what. God bless you. You really started something here."

Watkins told Brodie's father that the credit should go to Jena Parker, the paralegal in his conviction integrity unit who brought the case to his attention.

"She's the one you really need to thank," Watkins told him. "She read your letter and got all this going."

Parker said that when she first read the letter from Brodie's father, two things stood out to her: If a deaf person had committed the crime, he would have had no gauge of how loud he was as he went through things in the house; and how did the child victim understand Brodie's instructions when his voice is often unintelligible?

Once she looked at the police file, Parker said, she began to have questions about points that were raised in court this week and ultimately led to Brodie's release. Those included a fingerprint on a window screen at the girl's home that did not match Brodie, as well as a hair on a blanket that did not match him or anyone in the girl's family.

Brodie is the third man in Dallas County cleared without DNA evidence and the second exonerated after pleading guilty to a crime. He is also the second exoneration in a Richardson case .

The county has recorded 20 DNA exonerations – more than any other county in the nation since 2001, when Texas began allowing post-conviction genetic testing.

Eight of those exonerees showed up to greet Brodie on Tuesday and gave him several hundred dollars. Thomas McGowan, the other man exonerated in a Richardson case, said he came to let Brodie know he wouldn't be going through his readjustment alone.

"It's a day of freedom. It's a beautiful day," said McGowan, who was cleared in 2008. "I remember when I got out it was the most beautiful day in the world."