After 14 Years in Prison, Dale Duke Is Cleared of Sexual Abuse Conviction and Free At Last

Categories: Crime

Dale Duke1.JPG
Photo by Leslie Minora
Dale Duke, second from right, with his parents and Judge Susan Hawke.
As a free man for the first time in 14 years, Dale Duke tightly embraced his tearful mother. His every move followed by a swarm of cameras, the wrongfully imprisoned man, now 60, exited the packed courtroom of District Judge Susan Hawk with his parents, lawyer and supporters from his church. Wearing thick tortoise-shell glasses, a brown wool blazer and matching tie, the exoneree looked more like a lawyer than a former inmate as he walked through the Frank Crowley halls.

Duke and his mother didn't let go of each other. Their eyes were wide at the frenzy of attention swarming around them -- this newly freed man, one more to join the ranks of the wrongfully imprisoned from Dallas County.

"I'm gonna see what the Lord has in store for me," said Duke, a member of Believers Chapel in North Dallas. Asked how she's holding up, his mother said, "Just holding up period." With one arm around her son and another clutching a bouquet of yellow flowers, she alternated between smiling and holding back tears.

In 1992, Duke was indicted by a Dallas County grand jury on the charge of aggravated sexual assault of a child -- his stepdaughter, who was 7 at the time. Six years later, she admitted she had lied when she accused him of the assault, but a judge did not believe her recantation. Recently, the District Attorney's Office determined there was evidence that the child's grandmother thought she was lying all along. This additional evidence, not previously presented at trial, provided a basis for bringing the case in front of a judge once again. This is the fourth Dallas County exoneration without DNA evidence and the 26th exoneration overall.

Duke's unwavering persistence in maintaining that he was innocent landed him in prison and finally got him out. Duke pleaded no contest to the allegations to avoid jail time while also not admitting guilt. But when he refused to 'fess up during therapy as part of his probation, he was sent to prison, his lawyer, Robert Udashen, said.

"If we hadn't found a Brady violation, this never would have happened," he said, referring to the withheld evidence.

Duke's stepdaughter, now 26, was not in attendance. Dee Childress, who was her Sunday school teacher, said that at a hearing last week, his stepdaughter testified that she had lied as a 7-year-old, then turned toward Duke and said, "I'm so sorry."

Udashen had been working on the case since 1998, when Duke's stepdaughter recanted. "It's a very great day," he said. "It's nice to finally be successful with it. He's hung in there and continued to fight for his freedom."

Duke is the first exoneree since the change in leadership of the District Attorney's Office Conviction Integrity Unit, which reexamines cases where there may have been flaws leading to wrongful incarceration. Mike Ware, who helped launch the department in 2007, resigned four months ago and returned to private practice. He was replaced by Russell Wilson, who has a background in criminal defense.

Duke's was also the first exoneration hearing that Johnny Pinchback attended since his own in May. After Judge Hawk declared Duke innocent, Pinchback stood solemnly in the back of the courtroom. Only five months ago he was the object of the post-exoneration media circus, but today reporters and photographers passed him with little notice. His hearing was lined with previous exonerees, but he said many of them didn't receive prior notice about today's exoneration, so he was the only one able to attend.

"I take it one day at a time," he said. "I can't catch up so I'm catching in."

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17 comments
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Bmarvel
Bmarvel

One solution might be to make prosecutors serve the remainder of the sentences of those who are subsequently shown to have been innocent, when it can be proved that prosecutorial misconduct was involved. 

Guest
Guest

We don't even have to go that far. How about just some punishment for breaking the rules and violating the law? As it is now, there's absolutely no punishment when prosecutors break the rules and the law.

And the State Bar Association that's supposed to police these sorts of things almost never even investigates misconduct, let alone dole out a significant penalty.

And it doesn't seem like enough people actually care.

Look down there in Williamson County where the D.A. (now judge) went out of his way to hide exculpatory evidence from Michael Morton, even going so far as to refuse to turn such evidence over to the judge when he ordered it to be turned over to him. Had that D.A. and the police been more interested in the truth over the win, they should have been able to prevent the additional violent crimes that the real murderer of Christine Morton committed.

But I'm sure Caitlin Baker and her brother were perfectly fine growing up without a mother when that prosecutorial misconduct allowed Christine Morton's killer to kill their mother Debra Baker two years later.

And, to me, the kicker is that the guy who murdered Christine Morton and Debra Baker, who left his DNA at both crime scenes, is known to police and prosecutors now. He's free and living in California. And NOBODY has done anything except prevent the release of his name. No attempt to arrest him or indict him (and get this violent murderer off the streets). They just want to keep the press from finding out his name and discovering all he's done over the years when he should've been on Texas Death Row for killing Christine Morton.

Even the current Williamson County D.A. John Bradley is complicit. He argued FOR SIX YEARS that DNA on a bloody bandana found near the Morton murder should not be tested. The courts ultimately disagreed and, lo and behold, the guy who's been in prison for 25 years wasn't the killer (just like the rest of the evidence that Bradley and his predecessors hid said all along).

John Bradley would rather protect his buddies' mistakes from getting out than put a murderer behind bars, even if it results in more people being killed and the taxpayers spending millions of dollars to keep the wrong person in jail (the six extra years that Morton served will cost taxpayers an additional $500,000+ in compensation for his wrongful conviction. You want to tell ten teachers that we're going to have to fire them because John Bradley didn't want to test some DNA evidence?).

But who wants to bet that both John Bradley and District Judge Ken Anderson (the then-DA who hid the evidence in the first place and, effectively, allowed Debra Baker to be murdered just so he wouldn't have to lose face by letting the innocent guy go) are re-elected when they go up for election again.

And the State Bar Association who should be disciplining both of them? They won't do shit.

G_David
G_David

It just makes my heart hurt, knowing that this guy could have skated through probation by lying, but refused to do so and spent 14 years in jail as a result.  And that it literally could happen to anybody.  Words can't describe the contempt I have for prosecutors and their win-at-any-cost mentality, regardless of how many lives are ruined.  I would love to see the sleazeballs that are responsible for cases like this, and suppress evidence, have to spend a year in jail for each year a wrongfully convicted person spent behind bars. I think then DAs offices might actually concern themself with the truth instead of putting another bullet point on their resume.

Paul
Paul

I hope that this guy is able to enjoy the rest of his life.

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

Another amazing story of an innocent man being release from the shackles of injustice. I have a feeling theres more like him accused of the same henious crime that are being held in the Texas penal system, I hope and pray their innocence is proven, as well as their release coming soon after..

Rooster
Rooster

How the prosecutors in the DA's office responsible for tossing all these innocent people in jail have avoided any sort of punishment is beyond me.

It's one thing to blow a case; another not to present all the facts in a case and destroy someone's life just so a prosecutor can add to his/her "win" column.

The whole thing just makes me want to go take a shower, but then again, most stories involving lawyers do....

Pat Boyack
Pat Boyack

This is exactly why I hate being alone with a child other than my own. Very scary stuff and will haunt you the rest of your life if it happens to you.

Just Sayin
Just Sayin

I wonder if the initial accusations stemmed from a divorce proceeding.  False accusations of any kind of abuse put the accuser at an advantage sadly enough. When the truth comes out years later the accuser never faces recrimination. Its a sad witch hunt that the family law industrial complex profits from all too often.

Rooster
Rooster

A corporate lawyer friend of mine once told me, "You will not find a bigger cesspool of greed, corruption, and collusion than you will in family law."

Guest
Guest

Corporate Lawyer Obi-Won Kenobi?

Diana Powe
Diana Powe

It's a terrible thing that we get wrongful convictions, but if Craig Watkins can't be lauded for anything else, he can be for the work of the Conviction Integrity Unit in upholding the prosecutorial mandate to "do justice".

Guest
Guest

"Do whatever it takes to find out what the truth is."

Words supposedly from John Vance, Dallas D.A. from 1986 to 1998 (as reported by Toby Shook).

"I knew John Vance to be a person of integrity," said Mike Cantrell.

"All he stood for was justice", according to Vance's wife.

I guess all that didn't extend to turning over evidence that the D.A.'s office was legally required to turn over to the defense.

Justice For All
Justice For All

Toby Shook is nothing but a publicity seeking (former) DA whose motto was "do whatever it takes to get a conviction and get me featured on another episode of American Justice". I'd love to see his case history examined.

Guest
Guest

I'm sure he learned all the dirty tricks from John Vance and Henry Wade.

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