What’s With Texas?

First George W. Bush. Now this? Do Texans realize they have become the laughing stock of the thinking world?

Charles Chatman said throughout his 26 years in prison that he never raped the woman who lived five houses down from him.

Now 47, Chatman is expected to win his freedom Thursday on the basis of new DNA testing that lawyers say proves his innocence and adds to Dallas County’s nationally unmatched number of wrongfully convicted inmates.

The imminent exoneration is not the story here. That news is happening almost daily, thanks to the science and technology created by DNA research. The story is in the incidental information that this is the 15th case from Dallas county, in the last 6 years alone, that someone has been cleared of a crime he or she was previously convicted of, based on analysis of DNA evidence.

Texas leads the country in prisoners freed by DNA testing. Including Chatman, the state will have released at least 30 wrongfully convicted inmates since 2001, according to the Innocence Project.

Mike Ware, who heads the Conviction Integrity Unit in the Dallas County District Attorney’s office, said he expects that number to increase.

Now, to give some credit where credit is due, it turns out that the crime lab used by Dallas County retains the evidence, making it possible to go back many years in order to analyze those susceptible to DNA testing. So statistically, Dallas County should have a higher exoneration rate, compared to counties that don’t retain such evidence. But…

District Attorney Craig Watkins also attributes the exonerations to a past culture of overly aggressive prosecutors seeking convictions at any cost.

So all that statistic does is tell us that Dallas Country makes it easier to correct a miscarriage of justice. But the miscarriage has to occur first.

Lets not forget that the state leads the nation in executions and evangelists, also.

And what good story doesn’t have a touch of irony?

Chatman, who was convicted in 1981 and sentenced to life in prison, said his faith kept him from giving up.

Yes, his god had a plan for him. His plan entailed having a neighbor mis-identify him so he could spend the better part of his young adulthood in prison, so that he would have the distinction of being the longest serving inmate in Texas to be exonerated by DNA evidence.

What an honor! What a plan!

35 thoughts on “What’s With Texas?

  1. Faith is the ability to reach a conclusion not supported by evidence, and deny a conclusion supported by evidence. Based on that definition (cribbed and paraphrased from a quote on Alexander the Atheist – the actual quote is from The War On Faith:

    “Faith is believing something as fact when you have no logical reason to do so. Stamping out the frighteningly popular misconceptions about faith and the faithful is the duty of every person who considers ignorance bad enough in and of itself without people wearing it like a badge of honor.”


    it does not surprise me that Texas leads the nation in convictions overturned based on actual evidence.

    As to the idea of his faith in ‘god’s plan’ I have to wonder about that one. A friend of mine from high school was an amateur magician. One of the tricks he taught me (which I have found occasionally useful professionally) is a magician’s choice. The magician (for instance) places two hats on the table — one is rigged so it can become flowers, the other not. He asks an audience member to pick a hat. Then, he manipulates the question so that the rigged hat is chosen. If the right hat is picked, no problem. If the wrong hat is picked, the magician just says, “By your choice, that hat is saved,” and does the trick with the rigged hat.

    ‘god’s plan’ has always struck me the same way. A family of five is killed in a car crash? god’s plan. A man finds a $60,000 lottery ticket on the street? god’s plan. A man is sent to prison for 26 years for a crime he did not comit? god’s plan. No weapons of mass destruction? god’s plan.

    My father had a college chum who had served in the Army as a draftee (late 1950s). When asked his religion, he said none. No dice. They had to have SOMETHING on his dog tag. He said he was a Gomoist (as he put it, the GREAT GOD GOMO makes sure that everything that is supposed to happen happens, and everything that is not, doesn’t). They put ‘other’ on his dog tag.

    The various versions of god out there today strike me as an odd admixture of the GREAT GOD GOMO and an absolute incompetent. According to some Christians, everything that happens is part of god’s great ineffable plan (GGG). Yet they still rail against anyone who does something (like think) that is outside of their definition of god. If he is so all-fired all-powerful, and everything that happens is part of his plan, then isn’t god an absolute incompetent since he can’t keep his plan on track? Or maybe the protests against the people doing something outside of their definition of god is also part of the plan, but how could you have someone doing something that god disapproves of if he is all powerful?

    Okay, no I have a headache.

    Good post. Sorry for the long post (again, occupational hazard).

  2. Most wrongful convictions, most executions, obsession with hight school football, trying to take evolution out of science class and replace in creationism.
    Texas, leading the country in stupidity.

  3. Frightening down there, that’s for sure.

    Hey, can’t this guy sue big time? Is that an option? If so, I smell pay day! Thank you Jesus, I guess. God works in mysterious ways, right? So he spent almost 30 years tossing salad. So what? See, faith works. You know he’s going to go on tour, hitting all the mega churches, Oprah, the works. The fundies must be drooling over having him, but I guess that’s better than the inmates who’ve been drooling over having him. A little at least. Praise Jesus! Yeah, that’s it.

  4. 15 inmates freed by Dallas County alone? That’s one county! So much for the Texas Judicial System…

  5. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Texas is a state in the USA rather than an independent banana republic. No wonder Dubya feels right at home there.

  6. Well, what do you expect from a place where everyone keeps yelling “Remember the a la mode“? Would you expect them to have any other kind of philosophy than pie in the sky?

  7. We should give Texas back to Mexico. That place gives me the creeps when I’m down there, and I’ve been there twice just last year alone. Both times I wondered if I would ever make it home or if I would be arrested for some infraction of a horse and buggy rule of the road. I’ve never seen such a self-righteous attitude as I saw down there. These people (when together) are frightening!

  8. Just be glad that Ed Meese isn’t in the mix. I remember him saying, with a benevolent smile on his face, that just because you were innocent didn’t mean you should be released from prison.

  9. See, there’s some things I actually like about Texas: Willie Nelson, Kinky Friedman, Lyle Lovett, Tex-Mex food. Okay, mostly just music and food. Oh, and the San Antonio Spurs. But the rest of it? Scary, weird freaking place. Big trucks and bee-hive hair.

    In the words of the Kinkster himself, who’s lived in both Texas and NYC… “The difference between Texas and New York is the difference between horse shit and pigeon shit.”

    Man, I wish he’d been elected governor. Part of his stump speech was that he wanted Texas to be first in something other than executions. Also wanted to outlaw the de-clawing of cats.

  10. Could someone point out the quantifiable scientific proof for macro-evolution? And while we’re all thinking here, isn’t it ultimately ignorant to group all people from a state together and categorize them as “ignorant” or “stupid”? Austin is a hub of progressive, liberal thought and artistic expression. So, is everyone from Texas ignorant, except those who are progressive and liberal. So, I guess, everyone from Texas is ignorant and stupid, except those who are just like me. Which, in the end, isn’t that the same accusation you are leveling against evangelical Christians? I guess bigotry lives in all states.

  11. Proof that we’re justified in our feelings of Texas might be that all you could come up with to defend it Joel is Austin. So yes, it’s not ALL ignorant and stupid. Congrats!

    Btw, The Atheist Community in Austin seems really good, and I enjoy both the podcasts of their weekly tv show and the podcasts of their more “spirited” podcast, The Non-Prophets. Good stuff. As for the rest of the state, well, the state is in teh process of re-examing ID to see if they can get it into the school curriculum aren’t they? Pretty, pardon the phrase, damning to me.

  12. Better to imprison an innocent man than accidentally let a guilty one go.

    ((Wait, it’s the opposite of that, isn’t it? Sorry Texas… you still fail.))

  13. Joel:

    You begin a comment by asking: Could someone point out the quantifiable scientific proof for macro-evolution?

    Could someone point out how this question is germane to anything written in the post? One commenter happens to mention evolution in passing, and you’re off and running, pal.

    And, listen. Just because Austin actually has a few bookstores doesn’t make it a hub of progressive, liberal thought and artistic expression. You’re describing New York, San Francisco, London, Paris. Austin is a tiny flyspeck of less-oppressive thought than its neighbors. It deserves a lot of credit, but let’s not claim that it’s any kind of cultural paradise. You need to travel more if you think it is.

  14. Hey, Joel. If you think my post was knocking all Texans, perhaps thou doth protest too much. Read it again. My gripe is with the State of Texas, not every individual there. I have friends in Texas, and I know there are atheists there, so there are a lot of Texans with some brains. But your State is really putting all of you in a bad light. You should really look at how the world looks at your state, and do something about it.

    Did you vote for Bush? Are you happy you did? If you didn’t, are you happy he calls your state home? Are you proud of the 405 executions in your state since the death penalty was restored? If you answered yes to any of those, you need to involve yourself in a little introspection. If not, don’t take my post personally.

  15. Joel: Of course, not everyone in Texas is an ignoramus. Not everyone from New York is some enlightened member of the cultural elite either. As our esteemed host has pointed out, this is just a commentary on what appears to be a trend in Texas– unbridled zeal for prosecution and execution followed by a startling number of false convictions. That should concern EVERYONE regardless of their pedigree.

    Ex: Looks like you’re making good on your resolution to challenge people more!

  16. joel: No one is saying all or even most Texans are morons but Texas is majorly f’ed up right now. And while my first statement may not be accurate the rest of my criticism of Texas is.
    As for evolution, thats way, way off topic and all I’ll say is look up information on it.

  17. Just for the record, any city that produces shows like Austin City Limits rocks in my book. But it’s a BIG STATE, dude! For that matter, so is NY. If anyone thinks NY is nothing but sophistication and the Manhattan skyline from border to border they have got another thing coming. Try driving north and west of Manhattan for a few hours and see where that lands you.

  18. In fact, I’m going to go an extra step and apologize for calling a state I’ve never even been to a “weird freaking place.” In fact, I’ve always wanted to go to see Austin and also check out Willie’s big 4th of July Picnic.

  19. Funny, I’m not from TX. So it’s not MY state. I guess we’re only allowed to defend people just like us. Inquisitor, if you’ll read your post again, a man mentions his faith helped him through. That’s all. No mention of God’s eternal providence, just that his faith helped him not give up. Then, you’re off and running on a bitter diatribe. My friend, I’m simply asking you to read the first two lines of your post, which I was accused of not reading that well. Now why would I think you’re condemning Texans in general and not simply the state. By the way, the State of Texas is made up of Texans. That’s how statehood, actually Texas is a republic, or commonwealth-hood works.

    As far as the death penalty goes, the problem is not with the state executing those who have earned it, especially, as you point up in your post, with true, rock-hard DNA evidence. The problem is in the slow execution of the legal system which frustrates the public and offers no motivation to other potential criminals to re-think their possible steps in destroying life.

    I encourage Lone Wolf to point me to some places to research evidence for macro-evolution.

    And, if being an evangelical or even just a plain ole’ theist means that one is narrow-minded and degrading to those who view the world differently than they do, your comments, Inquisitor, that being an atheist constitutes having a brain, must mean you are an evangelical atheist.

  20. Sorry, Joel. I thought of that after I posted, that you may not actually be from Texas. I jumped to that conclusion from your immediate defense of “everyone from Texas” I apparently maligned. It just sounded like you included yourself. Again, I apologize for including you among all those ignorant Texans. 😉

    Let’s see now. Oh, yes. The first two lines of my post:

    First George W. Bush. Now this? Do Texans realize they have become the laughing stock of the thinking world?

    Sorry, I still fail to see how I’ve maligned “everyone from Texas”. If anything, I’m trying to alert “everyone from Texas” that they are getting a bad rep. The world is laughing at them. Not because of what they (“everyone from Texas”) are doing but because of what their elected leaders are doing. Someone needs to get control of that state. My first pick to do that would be …{drumroll, please} …”everyone from Texas”.

    As for macro evolution, here’s a good start. The entire Talk Origins website is good too, for that matter.

  21. No hard feelings. Thanks for the website to peruse, as well.

    I see your point on in your… {drumroll please}… last large paragraph. Reading back through, with your explanation in ear, helps me see where you were going.

    You asked me a series of questions in a previous reply… my silence should be damning enough without me going into the gore-y details.

    I’m glad I found your blog. I’ll be tuning in on a regular basis!

  22. Thank you. Your blog reminds us that “justice” is not always dished out blindly and thoughtfully. Too often political motivations, personal biases drive a case forward. Too often when a person is arrested the public views them as guilty…after all if they are arrested they must be guilty and if they are not convicted it was due to a loophole or tainted evidence. We too often forget that police jump to conclusions prematurely. Too often we forget that perception and reality can be two different things.

    Thankfully the Dallas police department has kept the evidence that with advances has been used to free the wrongly convicted. Regretfully, Texas is a state with strong capital punishment history. I fear that a few wrongly convicted have been executed.

  23. “I encourage Lone Wolf to point me to some places to research evidence for macro-evolution.”
    1. Off topic.
    Two. Click my names, got to my blog and click the Creationism/Intelligent design.
    Tres. Don’t depend on me, I’m one flawed human bing, look it up, your on the internet

  24. Why couldn’t Texas have “accidently” convicted a 21 year old George W. Bush of something and left him locked up for 26 years? Hey, even I might have been convinced that god had a plan!

  25. I’m glad I found your blog. I’ll be tuning in on a regular basis!

    Thank you, Joel. Please feel free to come back anytime. Especially if you disagree with anything you see here. I find that blogs often become populated with like-minded commenters, (mine included) and therefore the occasional disagreement is tacitly discouraged, for fear of being “ganged up” on (which actually happens, but not by design). In my opinion, however, here, logic, reason and evidence win out. Opinions are just that, but need to be supported by evidence. So if you do disagree, be prepared to have your opinion supported by something.

    As for evolution, a thorough understanding (hell, even a cursory understanding) of it, is all that is needed to refute the nonsense usually spouted by those (usually religious, usually Christians) creationists who’s only objection boils down to “it conflicts with my religious beliefs, therefore it’s not true”.

    I say, well, hell yes!, of course it conflicts with your religious beliefs, if those beliefs are what you base your understanding of science. The mere concept of science wasn’t known or understood when Genesis was written, so why use that as a science textbook?

    OK. Now I”m off topic. But I own the blog, so I can do what I like.

    Here, I’M GOD! (bwahahahahhah!)

  26. SI:

    Ah, my cynicism just knows no bounds.

    As far as your new pal, Joel, is concerned, his request for info about evolution seems insincere. If someone reallywanted to find out about that topic, he might look in the science section of his local library or bookstore, or perhaps type “evolution” into Google or YouTube, or check out the available and appropriate Nature programs through a video rental service or …

    Probably the last thing a sincere person would do is pick up on a casual reference by a commenter in a response to a politico-legal post on a blog written by an atheist lawyer, and then take the reference out of context to use it as an invitation to making a request for more information about the subject.

    But, as I said, maybe I’m too cynical.

  27. Texas is so strange. They insist on “blazing their own trail,” which must have something to do with the state’s history that keeps living on in the collective mind of its citizens. It’s obnoxious that they think the highest virtue is to be steadfast in one’s opinions, not matter how ill-informed and not listen to criticism….hrmm, sound familiar?

  28. Ex-

    You must be God, since you can judge the sincerity of one’s actions. The sincerity comes from wanting to learn from which well you drink. Remember, we’re all products of our environment. So, yes, you are too cynical. Dialogue requires understanding the other’s position. As an open-minded liberal, I’m sure you’re up for dialogue, and not just stating your beliefs and expecting someone to stupidly say, “Oh, Ok.”

  29. Those stupid Texans. What a stupid state. What really galls me is all those folks from the north who are moving there. Don’t they know what a stupid bunch of wild-eyed religious fanatics they will have as neighbors? All I can say is, “Keep your doors locked, y’all! Then the lack of universities and colleges! Rice University for example…what an overrated institution! You take the University of Texas…please! SMU…oh no! What in the world motivated NASA to locate in Houston? And what possesses those corporations who are relocating there…somebody needs to warn ’em!
    I am so glad that I am so very intelligent and sophisticated and can see those hayseed religious nuts for what they really are. It is so good to be superior!

  30. Tax breaks for businesses, low cost real estate, wide open patches of land and some universities do not bear witness to much concerning the hearts and minds of the inhabitants of the state, dwhitsett. Perhaps over time if the increase of corporations locating in the state is both numerous and spread evenly across the state AND they draw intelligent employees (I won’t just say northerners = intelligent) to make their homes there along with the graduates of those universities you mentioned mostly stay in the state, then you might to see an effect like you describe where the presence of universities and people of other states moving there have some correlation to the state of the hearts and minds of the general populace.

    I also don’t know if NASA, Rice, or any of the businesses in Texas which draw all those migrators you refer to make any effort to affect the state’s social policies or educate the general populace about such issues. Once again, their mere presence makes no statement on the populace.

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