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Michael Phillips

Other Conviction Integrity Unit DNA Cases
On September 28, 1990, a 16-year-old white girl was awakened in a Dallas, Texas motel by a man wearing a black and white ski mask who raped her. She said she struggled with the attacker and bit his hand several times and also pulled up the man’s mask and recognized him as 33-year-old Michael Phillips, an African American man she had seen living at the motel.

The following month, detectives showed the victim a six-picture photographic lineup, and she identified Phillips, who had a prior conviction for burglary, as the man who raped her.

On November 30, 1990, Phillips pled guilty to sexual assault. He later said that his lawyer told him he could get life in prison and that if he went to trial, and that no jury would believe a black man over a white woman. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison and served that entire term.

Phillips was released in November 2002. Two years later he pled guilty to failing to register as a sex offender and served six months in State Jail. While in jail and without the assistance of a lawyer he filed a state law petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging his sexual assault conviction as well as his conviction for failing to register on grounds of innocence and alleging that DNA testing would exonerate him. The petition was denied, in part because he failed to demonstrate that physical evidence existed on which DNA testing could be done, or that DNA testing had been done, or that DNA testing could prove his innocence.

After Craig Watkins was elected District Attorney of Dallas County in 2007, he formed a Conviction Integrity Unit, the first of its kind in the U.S. Shortly after, Professor Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan Law School (co-founder of the Registry) contacted the founding supervisor of the Unit, Assistant District Attorney Michael Ware, and suggested that the office undertake a project to conduct DNA tests in cases where defendants had been convicted of sexual assaults for which DNA evidence was available but for which no DNA testing had yet been done.

The project was approved by District Attorney Watkins in 2009, and put into operation with assistance from Professor Gross and Professor Colin Starger of the Baltimore University Law School. In May 2014, the Conviction Integrity Unit determined that Phillips was innocent. DNA testing developed a single male profile from the rape kit that was collected at the time of the crime. That profile was uploaded to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), and the source of the semen was identified as Lee Marvin Banks, who was incarcerated in the Texas State Jail because his probation for a 2012 burglary conviction had been revoked.

Banks denied committing the rape but admitted living at the motel where the rape took place in the relevant time period. He could provide no explanation for his semen being found on the victim’s vaginal swab. Banks also denied having consensual relationships with white women.

On July 25, 2014, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office joined Phillips in asking the Dallas County District Court to recommend to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that it grant relief to Mr. Phillips based on actual innocence, and vacate his convictions and dismiss the charges. District Attorney Watkins personally apologized to Phillips.

On August 6, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals vacated the convictions for sexual assault and for failing to register as a sex offender. On September 3, 2014, the charges were dismissed. Phillips was awarded $1,297,000 in state compensation plus a monthlyannuity of $7,500.

The exoneration of Michael Phillips was the first obtained by the Dallas County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit’s Systematic DNA Testing Project – an on-going effort to identify falsely convicted defendants by DNA testing in sexual assault convictions in which biological evidence is available but no DNA tests have been requested or conducted.

In August 2017, Banks was arrested on a fugitive warrant for a 2011 sexual assault that he was linked to by DNA testing. However, he was released in October 2017 after a grand jury declined to indict him in that case. He was not prosecuted in the 1990 rape because the statute of limitations had expired by the time his DNA was linked to that crime.

Although the statute of limitations had expired and Banks could not be charged, an addendum indicating his DNA connected him to the 1990 sexual assault was added to his criminal history under the Texas DNA Supported Suspected Offender File statute. It can be presented in the punishment phase of any future trial.

Phillips, who suffered from sickle cell anemia, passed away in January 2019.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/8/2014
Last Updated: 7/8/2021
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1990
Sentence:12 years
Age at the date of reported crime:33
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes