"First black district attorney in Texas speaks to Wake Forest law students; has pushed for Racial Justice Act in Texas," is by Michael Hewlett in today's Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina.
As the first black District Attorney in Texas, Craig Watkins doesn’t shy away from race; he confronts it.
And he said that’s because of his experience growing up black in Dallas.
“Traditionally, people of color have had a negative view of law-enforcement, and it’s warranted,” he said in an appearance Thursday at Wake Forest University School of Law that was sponsored by the Black Law Students Association and the Innocence and Justice Clinic. Mark Rabil, the director of the Innocence and Justice Clinic, moderated the conversation with Watkins, who has been district attorney in Dallas County, Texas, since 2006.
He said he remembers when police officers would come to his neighborhood to investigate a dead body. The officers seemed more concerned with checking on possible outstanding warrants on people in the neighborhood than in figuring out who committed the crime, Watkins said.
That experience has led Watkins to be a different kind of prosecutor, one he describes as being smart on crime rather than tough on crime. Watkins has a conviction integrity unit in his office that investigates claims of wrongful convictions and has resulted in 33 exonerations.
Watkins currently is pushing for a Racial Justice Act in Texas, similar to the North Carolina law that the N.C. Senate repealed Wednesday. The law, adopted in 2009, allowed death-row inmates and defendants facing the death penalty to use statewide statistics to prove that racial bias played a significant role in their case. If successful, a judge would commute a death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The proposed legislation still has to go through the N.C. House.
Watkins is also opposed to the death penalty in Texas. Because of his opposition, Watkins said, he decided to form a death penalty review panel, made up of the most experienced prosecutors in his office. That panel reviews each murder case that could be eligible for the death penalty, he said.
He said he doesn’t want to leave the decision to pursue the death penalty up to politics. Watkins said his office has prosecuted eight capital murder cases and out of those, defendants in seven of those cases received the death penalty.
Earlier coverage of Craig Watkins begins at the link; also available, coverage of North Carolina legislation repealing the state's RJA.
Related posts are in the race category index.