Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Donald Gay

Other Harris County, Texas exonerations with inadequate legal defense
On July 19, 2018, 56-year-old Donald Gay was arrested in Houston, Texas for a parole violation. At the time, Gay said he was homeless and was living on the street.

Police checked his criminal record and discovered that he had been convicted of rape in 1978 and subsequently of other offenses, including a murder while in prison. He had been released on parole to the Southeast Texas Transitional Center, where he was required to live with an ankle monitor. While there he registered as a sex offender pursuant to the 1978 rape conviction and listed the center as his address. Police told him that he had a lifetime obligation to register as a sex offender.

In February 2018, Gay cut off his ankle monitor and walked away from the center. As a result, a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was charged with failing to register as a sex offender after he left the transitional center.

On July 25, 2019, Gay pled guilty to the charge of failing to register as a sex offender and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

While in prison, Gay filed a state law petition for a writ of habeas corpus claiming that he actually was not required to register as a sex offender. He said that at the time he pled guilty to the rape charge in 1978, he was only 16 years old.

The Texas criminal statute that requires a lifetime obligation to register applies to a “sexually violent offense” committed by a person age 17 or older. Since Gay was only 16, he claimed his sex offender registration obligation was 10 years, which applied to other sex crimes not covered by the sexually violent offense statute.

Ultimately, Gay was appointed a lawyer, Harris County deputy public defender Nicholas Mensch. Mensch investigated Gay’s claims and subsequently filed a revised writ of habeas corpus. Mensch determined that Gay’s 10-year obligation to register had expired in 2007.

The Harris County District Attorney’s office agreed to support the granting of the writ. On December 19, 2019, a trial court judge recommended the writ be granted.

In May 2021, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the writ and vacated Gay’s conviction. On June 18, 2021, the prosecution dismissed the charge. Gay remained incarcerated. Since his parole had been revoked based on the sex offender registration conviction, his freedom was left up to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 6/25/2021
Last Updated: 6/25/2021
Most Serious Crime:Sex Offender Registration
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2018
Sentence:15 years
Age at the date of reported crime:56
Contributing Factors:Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No