Dallas DA, DPD Reopen 1997 Murder Case, and Discover They Convicted the Wrong Men

Categories: Crime
Claude Simmons 2009 bookin photo.jpg
Dallas County District Attorney
Claude Simmons is one of two men being exonerated for a 1997 murder he did not commit.
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins's office sends word this morning that two men convicted of murder in October 1997 -- 54-year-old Claude Alvin Simmons Jr. and 39-year-old Christopher Shun Scott -- have been exonerated. Says Watkins's spokesperson, Jamille Bradfield, these are "the first two non-DNA exonerations since Mr. Watkins has been in office." And per the press release, two other men have been arrested by the Dallas Police Department in conjunction with the April 1997 slaying of Alfonso Aguilar, who was robbed and then shot to death:
The Dallas County District Attorney's (DA) Office announced today that a joint investigation between the Dallas Police Department's (DPD) Cold Case Unit and the Conviction Integrity Unit of the District Attorney's Office has resulted in an arrest and capital murder charge against Don Michael Anderson, 40, for the 1997 capital murder of victim Alfonso Aguilar. A co-actor in the murder, Alonzo Hardy, 49, has also been identified through the joint investigation. Hardy has been in custody since 1999 and is currently serving a 30-year sentence in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for an unrelated aggravated robbery which he committed approximately one year after the murder. ...

The reinvestigation of the case revealed that both Anderson and Hardy had been mentioned as suspects during the early stages of the original investigation of the offense and that defense attorneys attempted to present evidence at one of the 1997 trials that Anderson had in fact confessed to the offense. The trial judge would not allow the jury to hear the evidence. The reinvestigation includes an extensive confession by Hardy, detailing his and Anderson's role in the offense. His detailed statement, likewise exonerates Simmons and Scott. Hardy's statement is corroborated by physical evidence collected at the original crime scene as well as by other witnesses. Hardy has also passed a polygraph.
The full release from the DA's office is after the jump, and we'll follow up shortly with an interview with Watkins and Mike Ware, head of the Conviction Integrity Unit. And, yes, there has been one other man released from prison not using DNA evidence: Richard Miles, who was released on bond earlier this month pending a new investigation, after it was discovered exculpatory evidence was withheld at trial.
District Attorney's Office and Dallas Police Department Cold Case Unit's Joint Investigation Results in Arrest and Capital Murder Charges Against Actual Perpetrators in 1997 Case, Clears Two Men Who Were Wrongly Convicted

(DALLAS - October 21, 2009) - The Dallas County District Attorney's (DA) Office announced today that a joint investigation between the Dallas Police Department's (DPD) Cold Case Unit and the Conviction Integrity Unit of the District Attorney's Office has resulted in an arrest and capital murder charge against Don Michael Anderson, 40, for the 1997 capital murder of victim Alfonso Aguilar. A co-actor in the murder, Alonzo Hardy, 49, has also been identified through the joint investigation. Hardy has been in custody since 1999 and is currently serving a 30-year sentence in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for an unrelated aggravated robbery which he committed approximately one year after the murder.

Christopher Scott 2009 bookin photo.jpg
Dallas County District Attorney
Christopher Scott is also being exonerated for a 1997 murder he did not commit.
The arrest and charges clear the way for the anticipated exoneration of two previously convicted men who have consistently maintained their innocence. The joint investigation by DPD and the DA's office, has established that Claude Alvin Simmons, Jr., 54, and Christopher Shun Scott, 39, were both wrongly convicted of the capital murder of Alfonso Aguilar. The two men were tried in back-to-back trials in October 1997.

"The hard work and cooperation between DPD and the District Attorney's office have made this possible," said Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins. "This is a huge step forward for justice. Two innocent men will be exonerated for capital murder and the two guilty parties are finally being brought to justice. DPD and its Cold Case Unit are to be commended for their willingness to take a fresh look at what had been a closed case."

The facts of the case reveal that in the early morning hours on April 7, 1997, two men entered a Dallas residence and robbed and fatally shot the victim, Mr. Alfonso Aguilar. The victim's cause of death was a gun shot wound to the chest.

Alonzo Hardy 2009 bookin photo.jpg
Alonzo Hardy has been charged with the 1997 murder of Alfonso Aguilar.
The reinvestigation of the case revealed that both Anderson and Hardy had been mentioned as suspects during the early stages of the original investigation of the offense and that defense attorneys attempted to present evidence at one of the 1997 trials that Anderson had in fact confessed to the offense. The trial judge would not allow the jury to hear the evidence. The reinvestigation includes an extensive confession by Hardy, detailing his and Anderson's role in the offense. His detailed statement, likewise exonerates Simmons and Scott. Hardy's statement is corroborated by physical evidence collected at the original crime scene as well as by other witnesses. Hardy has also passed a polygraph.

After the DA's Conviction Integrity Unit advised that other persons were claiming responsibility for this offense the Dallas Police Department's Cold Case Squad immediately reopened the investigation in order to reexamine the facts of the case. Our purpose was to examine all the evidence in order to make an independent judgment on the validity of the original investigation, or determine the identity of the true offenders. Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle stated "The Conviction Integrity Unit has done an excellent job in reviewing cases and working to ensure justice was done. We share their passion in protecting the integrity of the Criminal Justice System and are appreciative of the opportunity to participate with them in this important process."

Don Michael Anderson 2007 bookin photo.jpg
Don Michael Anderson has been charged with the 1997 murder.
Simmons and Scott, both of whom have consistently maintained complete innocence, testified on their own behalf at their back-to-back 1997 trials, and presented evidence that they were not involved in the murder. They both have now also passed polygraphs as to their complete lack of involvement.

The case was originally brought to the attention of the DA's Conviction Integrity Unit by the students at the Texas Center for Actual Innocence at the University of Texas at Austin and the students at the University of Texas at Arlington Innocence Network. The case became a full-fledged joint investigation between the Dallas County District Attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit and the Dallas Police Department's Cold Case Unit last summer. The Dallas County District Attorney's Office is located at the Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas, Texas, and is led by District Attorney Craig Watkins, who took office on January 1, 2007. The DA's Office represents the State of Texas in the prosecution of all Dallas County criminal cases. For more information about the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, please visit www.dallasda.com.
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