In February 1998, a woman was attacked at the Houston, Texas plumbing company where she worked, which was owned by her father. She was badly beaten and remained in a coma for ten days. The victim initially told police she could not identify her attacker, but 20 days later she told police that “Gilbert” had attacked her and picked Gilbert Amezquita out of a photo array. Amezquita had worked at the plumbing company until shortly before the assault, and had once had a verbal altercation with the victim. The police recovered scrapings from under the victim’s fingernails, and both the defense and the prosecution requested to delay the trial until DNA testing could be completed, but the judge refused. The fingernail scrapings were never tested and were destroyed shortly after trial. In July 1998, a jury convicted Amezquita of aggravated assault and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
After his conviction, Amezquita retained a new attorney who discovered important information that Amezquita’s trial attorney never pursued. The victim’s cell phone was stolen during the attack, and the police report named Christine Allen as someone who later used the phone. Amezquita’s trial attorney had failed to interview the people who were called after the cell phone was stolen, and later admitted that he had done nothing more than review the court file before Amezquita’s trial.
Amezquita’s new attorney filed a habeas corpus petition in 2000. In 2002, Christine Allen told a district attorney and his investigator that she borrowed the phone from James Wilder, who had bought it from Alonzo “Gilbert” Guerrero. Wilder confirmed Allen’s story. Guerrero also worked at the plumbing company, and had had an argument with the victim shortly before the attack. In 2003, the trial court recommended that Amezquita receive a new trial. Finally, in November 2006, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Amezquita’s conviction and granted him a new trial based on the inadequate investigation by his trial attorney.
Amezquita was released on bail in December 2006 and prosecutors dropped the charges in February 2007. In May 2007, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended that Amezquita receive a pardon on the basis of actual innocence. In August 2007, the Governor pardoned Amezquita. As of 2012, he had received $419,964 in state compensation.
- Stephanie Denzel