On March 29, 1994, 18-year-old James Blackshire
and 17-year-old Antrone Johnson, both students at Seagoville High School in Dallas, Texas, were accused of having oral sex with a 13-year-old girl.
On February 6, 1995, Johnson pled guilty to aggravated sexual assault and received a 10-year deferred adjudication—meaning that if he remained arrest-free for 10 years, the conviction would be vacated—and he was placed on probation and fined $750.
That same day, Blackshire pled guilty to aggravated sexual assault and received a 10-year deferred adjudication as well. He was required to pay an $875 fine at the rate of $25 per month, a $5 per month sex offender fee, and to enroll in a sexual abuse therapy program.
On August 28, 1995, Blackshire was arrested when he appeared for a probation appointment for failing to pay $210 in probation fees and failing to attend the sexual abuse therapy program. He was appointed an attorney and on September 5, 1995, he pled guilty to failing to pay the probation fees and to failing to complete the therapy program. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Ten days later, on September 15, 1995, Johnson was accused of having sexual intercourse with another 13-year-old girl. Both were students at the high school, and the incident was alleged to have occurred in a bathroom at the school.
The case was presented to a grand jury, which refused to return an indictment. When the victim’s father became involved, the case was presented once more to a second grand jury, which returned a misdemeanor indictment for public lewdness.
When the judge who had imposed the deferred adjudication on Johnson learned of the second charge, he ordered the probation office to file a motion to revoke the probation. Johnson’s attorney was not notified and the judge ordered another attorney appointed to represent him on the probation revocation.
On January 19, 1996, the appointed attorney in the probation revocation proceeding filed a motion for discovery of evidence, including a rape kit, hospital reports or statements, but the motion was denied. (Johnson’s attorney in the second criminal case had never withdrawn from the case or been notified of the revocation proceeding). The judge held a hearing on the motion to revoke probation, found Johnson guilty and sentenced him to life in prison.
Johnson then pled guilty in the second case and was sentenced to five years in prison.
After the life sentence, Johnson’s family hired new counsel who filed motions for a new trial and to recuse the judge. Both were denied. An appeal was later dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
In 2008, a member of Johnson’s family contacted Dallas attorney Shirley Baccus-Lobel seeking help. Baccus-Lobel and a paralegal reviewed both cases and wrote to Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins seeking a review by the office’s conviction integrity unit.
The file on the first case was then released and showed that on February 5, 1996, the day before Blackshire and Johnson were set for trial, the complainant told the prosecutor in the case, Patricia Hogue, that Johnson had not had any sexual contact with her. The prosecutor’s note stated: “Johnson did not make her give him oral sex. He took her in the bathroom and she told him she didn’t want to do it, so he stayed in there and pretended and then let her out.”
The file also revealed that the prosecutor had interviewed school officials and learned that the complainant had serious credibility problems. One school official, according to the prosecutor’s notes said the girl was “a great liar.”
None of that evidence was revealed to Johnson’s defense attorney prior to his guilty plea and imposition of deferred adjudication.
A subsequent review of the prosecution file in the second case, which was handled by a different prosecutor, disclosed that the complainant said she came to school with a condom, which she gave to her boyfriend, and that she had sex that day with three other students under the basketball bleachers. That statement was not revealed to Johnson’s defense attorney.
In the fall of 2008, Baccus-Lobel filed petitions for state writs of habeas corpus on behalf of Johnson and Blackshire alleging the improper withholding of evidence by the prosecution.
On December 30, 2008, after the district attorney’s office joined in the motion, Blackshire’s conviction and 40-year prison term were set aside and Blackshire was released.
On July 1, 2009, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the order granting a new trial, finding that Blackshire’s attorney had provided inadequate legal assistance and the charges were dismissed.
On November 17, 2008, Johnson’s conviction and life sentence were set aside and Johnson was released. On May 20, 2009, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the order granting a new trial and the charges were dismissed. The conviction in the second case, for which Johnson had already served his sentence, remains undisturbed.
– Maurice Possley