HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The legal advocacy group that helped lead Houston native Lydell Grant to his exoneration discusses the cases it has taken on, and the need for change.
On Wednesday, The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals declared Grant innocent after he was wrongfully convicted of a murder that happened more than a decade ago.
According to a statement from the Harris County District Attorney's Office, the exoneration was declared more than a year after Grant was released from prison, due to DNA evidence and a confession from the man police say was responsible.
"You know, Lydell's case is an extraordinary case," said Grant's counsel and executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas, Mike Ware. "All of the exonerations are extraordinary cases. But, there are so many cases where there's not DNA, for example. Fortunately, in Lydell's case, there was DNA that proved beyond all doubt that he was innocent, even before we get to the fact that the actual perpetrator confessed."
Ware said the team of lawyers at the Innocence Project of Texas first investigate and vet each case before they take it on to prove it's a wrongful conviction. Ware said in some cases, this process could take years.
"It can take a decade. It can take longer than that," Ware said. "By the time that we actually file a writ of habeas corpus in court, we know this person is actually innocent. We know that they didn't do it. The challenge at that point is convincing the judges, the court of criminal appeals, etcetera, that there is enough evidence to prove by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable juror had convicted this individual had they been aware of this evidence."
Ware said currently, the non-profit is looking into 20 to 25 possible DNA exonerations cases. However, DNA exonerations only account for a portion of the overall wrongful conviction cases nationwide.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations website, out of the first 2,400 exonerations in the U.S., Harris County ranks second in the country with the most exonerations, which stands at about five times more than the national average per capita.
Ware said the Innocence Project of Texas is pushing a number of bills through the state capitol in hopes of preventing wrongful convictions and helping those like Lydell Grant where the evidence proved his innocence beyond a reasonable doubt.
"Our other objective is to try to get out in front of these things and enact criminal justice reform that will prevent innocent people from being convicted in the first place," Ware said. "At this point, it's up in the air whether we will get any of our bills successfully passed or not, even though we had a whole lot of bipartisan support on the House side. It's got to get through both houses before it becomes law."