DNA clears death row inmate in notorious case

May 23, 2008 5:23:14 PM PDT
Prosecutors said Friday that new DNA evidence clears a man sent to death row for a 1993 child slaying that led to the creation of tough sex offender laws, and a state district judge recommended the conviction be overturned. Being cleared would not free Michael Blair, who is also serving consecutive life sentences in the sexual assaults of other children. But prosecutors said he is not responsible for strangling and molesting 7-year-old Ashley Estell, who was abducted from a suburban Dallas soccer field.

"There is no good faith argument to support the current conviction in light of the facts and the law as they now exist," Collin County District Attorney John Roach said in a statement. "Therefore, under my duty to not only uphold the law but to see that justice is done, the state is joining today with the defense team in its request for relief."

" Ashley Estell's death prompted state lawmakers to pass tough sexual-predator measures called "Ashley's Laws" that require longer prison terms and public registration for sex offenders.

" Blair was convicted in 1998. Two years later, his attorneys presented prosecutors with DNA evidence that they said proved their client's innocence.

" "This should have happened eight years ago," said Roy Greenwood, Blair's attorney.

" The case now proceeds to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals where Blair is likely to be taken off death row and granted a new trial.

" The Collin County District Attorney's Office noted that another person may be the child's killer. Greenwood said that suspect is dead, and he does not expect prosecutors to exhume his body to pursue that aspect.

" Collin County District Judge Webb Biard recommended that Blair's conviction be overturned in a hearing Friday.

" Investigators found Male DNA on each of Estell's shoes after the Plano girl was found dead. But court records showed neither of the two profiles matched Blair, a former soccer referee.

" DNA material from a male also was found on her shirt but was insufficient for any comparison. And testing on a stuffed toy rabbit found in Blair's car when he was arrested didn't yield male DNA.

" The latest tests were conducted last year. Other tests previously performed on tissue taken from the victim's fingernails and hair found on the child also have failed to match Blair.

" "Troubling questions about our criminal justice are raised any time DNA testing shows that someone on death row is innocent," said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic that consulted on the case. "But in this case, the community rushed to judgment because Michael Blair had a record as a sex offender -- while the apparent real perpetrator, who had no record, evaded justice."

" At the time of the slaying, Blair was on parole after serving only 18 months of a 10-year sentence for burglary and indecency with a child.

" Last month, The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals asked a trial court to determine the significance of new DNA testing in the Blair case.

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