Friday, November 4, 2011
Dale Duke to be exonerated of 1992 Dallas County sexual assault case
Duke's accuser recanted her testimony 13 years ago.
On Friday, Dale Duke will be a free man after serving almost 14 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Prosecutors from the Dallas County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit will ask Judge Susan Hawk for a favorable finding of actual innocence for Duke.
Russell Wilson now leads the county’s Conviction Integrity Unit, and this is the first exoneration since he took over in July. “It feels good,” said Wilson, who began to move forward with the exoneration process last week. “In every case, our objective is to get to the truth,” Wilson said.
On Thursday, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins invited Duke and his attorney Robert Udashen to his office where he met them for lunch and apologized for what he’s gone through. ”We seek the truth, we seek justice,” said Watkins, “In this case, 14 years later, Mr. Duke will get his day in court.”
In 1992, Duke was married and had a good relationship with his wife and her daughter. But in April of 1992, he was indicted for aggravated sexual assault of a child.
Duke’s stepdaughter claimed that he would molest her during the process of giving her spankings. In August of that same year, Duke waived his right to a jury trial and entered a plea of no contest. He refused to sign a judicial confession and was placed on deferred adjudication for a period of 10 years.
In 1997 Duke was discharged from sex offender treatment because he would not admit to committing the sexual assault against his stepdaughter. A judge sentenced Duke to 20 years in prison because he did not complete the ordered treatment program.
In 1998, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office learned that the complaining witness in the case recanted her accusations against Duke. That’s when Robert Udashen began to represent him and worked to get his conviction overturned.
An interview by a former director and co-founder of the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center found the recantation to be credible. A polygraph test was used in helping to make that determination. Udashen took the case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, but both refused to vacate Duke’s conviction.
Watkins’ open file policy
Udashen said Duke would have remained in prison were it not for Watkins’ open-file policy. The D.A. instituted the policy in 2008, which allows for defense attorney’s to have access to prosecutions files.
Even while going through the appellate process, defense attorneys can request to see these files. This is not standard in most district attorney’s offices.
Prosecutors who reviewed files involving Duke’s case found that the witness’ grandmother raised concerns about her original testimony. There was a feeling that the witness was encouraged by her aunt to accuse Duke of sexually assaulting her. This evidence should have been shared with Dukes’ defense attorney but was not.
Duke and his attorneys did not have access to this information in 1998 when they sought to appeal the conviction, and it wasn’t until March of 2011 that they were provided with the prosecutor’s file. ”I’m sad the system didn’t work for Dale originally,” said Udashen, “but I’m glad it’s working for him now.”
"The original prosecutor’s failure to provide critical information to the defendant coupled with overwhelming evidence that the initial allegations were false convinced me that Mr. Duke was wrongfully convicted." -- Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins
Keeping the faith
As Duke sat in his prison grays with the smell of Eva’s House of Barbecue in the air, he seemed calm and relieved. He’d learned of his impending release just a couple of days before. “I’m probably in shock,” said Duke, who was preparing to eat his first good meal in 14 years. “They tell me there’s a lot of stuff different (out) there,” Duke said.
He explained that despite spending years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, his faith remains strong. “God has a reason for it,” Duke said, “I believe God ordained my life, that’s how I get through the day.”
His Christian roots go back to 1974, but he admitted he had some tough conversations with God about his situation. He relied on Hebrews 13:5 ("…never will I leave you, never will I forsake you") during his quite time.
Watkins has made a practice of meeting with exonorees for breakfast or lunch before they have their ultimate day in court. His Conviction Integrity Unit is committed to making sure justice is truly served. “We’re going to make sure the guilty are convicted and the innocent go free,” Watkins said.
Pegasus News Content partner - Dallas South News