Collin County District Attorney John Roach’s decision yesterday to fold his hand in the 1993 capital murder case against Michael Blair was the right call. But it should chill the blood of anyone who cares about justice and public safety.
First, it means the monster who killed young Ashley Estell more than 14 years ago may very well be on the loose. That’s a terrifying possibility for those who remember the details of how 7-year-old Ashley was plucked from a Plano soccer field and strangled.
Second, the DA’s decision means Mr. Blair could have paid with his life for what appears to be a prosecution that should never have taken place. Hair tests that were crucial in sending him to death row were disproved by more advanced DNA results nearly six years ago. More DNA tests ruled out tissue beneath Ashley’s fingernails and, more recently, failed to establish a link between Mr. Blair and other items.
It would offend the memory of Ashley’s life if opponents of the death penalty – this newspaper included – used this opportunity to gloat about the faults of the justice system and potential for fatal error. After all, supporters of capital punishment will say that the system worked, that the appeals process succeeded in exposing the truth. They must concede, however, that in the absence of new forensic technology, the appeals would likely have accomplished nothing.
“Collin County DA John Roach has, after 18 months in which his office spent 5,000 man-hours and more than $47,000 re-investigating the case, announced that there is no longer a good-faith basis for upholding the conviction of Michael Blair:” [here]
“Troubling questions about our criminal justice are raised any time DNA testing shows that someone on death row is innocent,” said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic that consulted on the case. “But in this case, the community rushed to judgment because Michael Blair had a record as a sex offender — while the apparent real perpetrator, who had no record, evaded justice.” [here]
Blair should be moved off of death row & back to general population soon.
My good friend Steve Hall has a very thoughtful commentary on Mr. Blair’s case.
Assuming a formal exoneration occurs in the coming days, this will be DPIC’s 130th. I should note I previously predicted reaching this number a few months ago. I am now predicting 131 by the end of summer and possibly 132 by the end of the year, with 133 & 134 possibly as well.
[update includes a correction to reflect that Blair is also serving a life term unrelated to his capital murder conviction, thx Mark]