On November 17, 1994, a 79-year-old woman got out of her car outside the Eckerd drugstore at the Inwood Shopping Center in Dallas, Texas, when a group of young men grabbed her purse, pushed her to the sidewalk and fled.
Police were called and an eyewitness pointed out some teenagers and young men sitting at a nearby bus stop drinking beer. They were arrested 15 minutes after the crime. The purse, containing $60, was never found.
Arrested were Darryl Washington
, Shakara Robertson and Marcus Lashun Smith
and two juvenile youths. They were taken to the drugstore for a show-up so that the victim and other witnesses could view them. The victim, Carolyn Webster, could not identify any of them, but bystanders identified Washington, Robertson and Smith—only their clothing—as either participating in the robbery or running away.
Smith, Robertson and Washington were charged with aggravated robbery. Smith pleaded no contest in October 1995 in return for deferred adjudication and remained free. Robertson also pleaded no contest and received 10 years probation.
Washington went to trial before a jury. Although three witnesses to the crime testified, only one could identify him and only by the clothing he was wearing at the time he was arrested. He was convicted in April 1996 and sentenced to 99 years in prison.
The juveniles were held for a short time in a juvenile detention center and released after the charges were dismissed. Robertson pleaded guilty in September 1996 and received probation.
In 2002, Tracey Cobb, a University of Houston law student began investigating the case at the request of Washington, who gave her the name of a woman who was a teenager at the time of the crime and whom he said knew who was actually involved.
Over several years, Cobb tracked down four of the five people the woman named (one had since died after being fatally shot) and all admitted their guilt, beginning in 2009.
Cobb continued to work on the case after she became a lawyer and brought the case to the Innocence Project of Texas. As the investigation continued, they discovered that the Dallas District Attorney’s office had failed to tell lawyers for Washington, Robertson or Smith that the charges against the juveniles were dismissed because no witnesses could identify them, even after one of the juveniles put on the same clothing he wore on the day of the arrest.
Cobb and the Innocence Project filed a petition for a state writ of habeas corpus and, following a separate investigation by the Conviction Integrity Unit of that Dallas District Attorney’s Office, a hearing was held on March 2, 2012, before state District Judge Lena Levario.
The four men that Cobb had tracked down—Marcus McClanahan, Christopher Love, Jeremy DeGray and William Jackson—testified that they never came forward because they did not want to get in trouble.
All of them were 15 years old at the time and because the statute of limitations has expired can no longer be charged with the crime. All later were convicted of drug and other charges. One was serving a nine-year prison term.
On April 6, 2012, at the joint urging of the lawyers for Washington, Smith and Robertson and the District Attorney’s Office, Judge Levario vacated their convictions, declared them innocent and dismissed the charges.
On May 23, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Levario’s ruling.
Smith has remained free since his guilty plea in 1995.
Robertson’s probation was revoked after he was convicted of indecency with a child and he was sentenced to two years in prison. In 2011, he was sentenced to three years in prison for failing to register as a sex offender.
Washington had been arrested on a charge of possessing heroin with intent to deliver prior to the purse snatching. He was convicted of that crime and was serving a 20-year sentence. He was released on mandatory supervision for the drug conviction shortly after the April 6 hearing. He would have been eligible for mandatory supervision years earlier, but was not released because of the erroneous robbery conviction.
– Maurice Possley