Deaf Man’s Exoneration Illustrates Post-Conviction Relief in Texas

Ten years. That is how long Steven Brodie was behind bars for a crime he did not commit. On September 28, 2010, he was released from prison after being wrongly convicted of the sexual assault of a five-year-old girl in the early 1990s.

Brodie, deaf since he was an infant, had confessed to the crime after long hours of questioning over many days, all without use of a sign language interpreter. He claims that he did not understand his legal rights (including the right to have an attorney present) at the time of the interrogation and that law enforcement pressured him into the confession.

Dallas County’s Conviction Integrity Unit

Fortunately for Brodie and others who might be wrongly imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins has created the “conviction integrity unit” to re-examine questionable convictions. Jena Parker, a paralegal who works for the unit, became interested in Brodie’s case after receiving a letter from his father. His case raised several red flags, including:

  • Lack of physical evidence linking Brodie to the crime
  • An unidentified fingerprint on the window screen of the girl’s home
  • A hair on a blanket that did not match Brodie’s

The county’s forensic lab has confirmed that the fingerprint left on the window has been matched to convicted sex offender, David Waterfield.

Post-Conviction Relief

This case is a tragedy from beginning to end — for the victim and her family, and for a man who was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Finding an experienced defense attorney to protect a suspect’s rights is a crucial step immediately after being arrested and can go a long way to preventing coerced confessions.

Since Texas began allowing post-conviction genetic testing, Dallas County has recorded 20 DNA exonerations – the most of any county in the nation. Even so, having an attorney advocating for the rights of prisoners by filing the proper writs and putting pressure on authorities to re-open cases and hold the necessary hearings is an important component in getting a wrongful conviction overturned. For anyone who finds himself in the terrible circumstances of being behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit, finding the right attorney can vastly improve the chances of a reversal.