The Death Penalty Information Center has just added Michael Blair to its list of men and women exonerated from death row. He is the 130th person sentenced to death to be exonerated since 1973. Death penalty exonerations have occurred in 26 states. Here is more from DPIC's news release:
A Collin County court in Texas has dismissed capital murder charges against Michael Blair who had been on death row for the 1993 murder of Ashley Estell. After more than a decade of legal appeals and requests for DNA testing, the hair evidence that had been used to convict Blair was shown to be mistaken. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found that no reasonable jury would convict Blair based on the existing evidence.
The District Attorney’s office filed a motion to dismiss the charges on August 25 stating, “It has been determined that this case should be dismissed in the interest of justice so that the offense charged in the indictment can be further investigated.” The Plano Police Department is now reinvestigating the 15-year-old case to find the true killer. The DNA evidence that cleared Blair indicates that another man, now deceased, is a plausible suspect in the girl's death. Referred to only as “Suspect 4” in court documents, this possible perpetrator showed an obsession with the victim and bought a grave plot as close as he could get next to her resting place. He has been deceased for at least 10 years.
The case was made famous in the mid-1990’s by a series of legal reforms known as “Ashley’s Laws.” Named after the victim Ashley Estell, these laws created longer prison sentences and lifetime sex offender registration requirements.
“This case demonstrates that innocent people still face a significant risk of execution in this country,” said Richard Dieter, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “For every nine people executed, we find one person on death row who should never have been convicted.“
According to DPIC’s innocence list, Blair is the fourth person to be exonerated from death row in 2008 and the ninth in Texas since the death penalty was reinstated. His case brings the total number of exonerations from death row to 130 since 1973. Blair remains in prison on other charges.
DPIC’s innocence list consists of those former death row inmates who have been acquitted of all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row, who have had all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row dismissed by the prosecution, or who have been granted a complete pardon based on evidence of innocence.