Wrongly convicted man officially cleared

June 11, 2008 2:19:55 PM PDT
The state criminal appeals court has officially exonerated a Dallas man who spent nearly 23 years in prison for a rape he did not commit.The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed Wednesday with a lower court ruling that DNA evidence proves Thomas Clifford McGowan is innocent of the 1985 rape of a Dallas-area woman.

McGowan won his freedom in April in state district court but still had to have the appeals court grant his writ of habeus corpus to officially clear his name. This step clears his record and makes it possible for McGowan to pursue financial compensation from the state.

McGowan was convicted in separate trials in 1985 and 1986 of rape and burglary. He was sentenced to life in prison both times.

McGowan is one of 18 Dallas County men since 2001 to have his conviction cast aside because of DNA testing. That's the most of any county in the nation, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center that specializes in overturning wrongful convictions.

Thirty-two people have been formally exonerated through DNA testing in Texas, also a national high, according to the Innocence Project. That does not include at least three recent cases that won't become official until Gov. Rick Perry grants pardons or the Court of Criminal Appeals issues rulings.

McGowan's wrongful imprisonment began in 1985 when a Richardson woman happened upon a burglary in progress at her apartment. After tying her up, a man raped the woman at knifepoint and loaded his car with several items stolen from her apartment, according to court documents.

The victim eventually picked McGowan from a photo array of seven men, telling police she "thought" he was the attacker. Police pressed her, saying she must be certain and not "just think it was him." That's when she decided he "definitely" was the attacker, the woman testified in court.

McGowan and his attorneys have said he was a victim of eyewitness misidentification. Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck said police initiated a "forced-choice response" from the rape victim.

Authorities are running the DNA from McGowan's case through state and federal databases. Prosecutors believe a match would identify the true rapist.

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