DNA to exonerate Texan convicted in ’82 rape

James Giles, Barry Scheck, Vanessa Potkin, Peter Lesser
James Curtis Giles addresses Judge Robert Francis on Monday at a Dallas hearing on his exoneration. Giles, who spent 10 years in prison for rape, is with counselors Barry Scheck, left, Vanessa Potkin, and Peter Lesser.Tim Sharp / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

James Curtis Giles spent 10 years in prison for a gang rape he has long said he did not commit.

On Monday, more than a decade after his release, a prosecutor told the court that his arrest had been a case of mistaken identity, and the judge recommended he be exonerated.

If the appeals court formally approves State District Judge Robert Francis’ recommendation as expected, Giles, now 53, will become the 13th Dallas County man to be exonerated since 2001 with the help of DNA evidence.

“I hope we continue to do the right thing in this situation,” Giles told the judge Monday. “Don’t wait this long to make it right.”

About two dozen relatives packed into the courtroom and broke into applause after Giles spoke.

Giles, who left with courtroom with a smile, said he doesn’t hold a grudge against the state. The judge complimented him on his positive attitude about his ordeal.

“This is not what I want to see as a judge,” Francis said, “but I’m glad we can rectify as much as we can.”

Lawyer notes ‘a long journey’ “He is overjoyed to finally have this day,” said Vanessa Potkin, Giles’ lawyer and a staff attorney with the Innocence Project. “It’s been a long journey for him. He says he has to laugh to keep from crying.”

The Dallas County District Attorney’s office and Giles’ lawyer both planned to present evidence in court Monday that they say proves he is innocent of the 1982 gang rape of a Dallas woman.

It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, said Assistant Dallas County District Attorney Lisa Smith.

A man who pleaded guilty to the gang rape, Stanley Bryant, implicated two other men in the crime: a James Giles and a Michael Brown. DNA evidence linked Brown and Bryant to the crime, Smith and Potkin said. Brown was never tried and died in prison after being convicted of another gang rape.

Police eventually arrested James Curtis Giles, who lived 25 miles away and did not match the description of the attacker given by the rape victim, Potkin said. Giles was about 10 years older and had gold teeth. He also had an alibi; he and his wife told police he was asleep in bed.

A man with a similar name
Investigators ignored another man with a similar name: James Earl Giles. That Giles lived across the street from the victim and had previously been arrested with Brown on other charges, the attorneys said. He died in prison in 2000 while serving time for robbery and assault.

The victims recently acknowledged some doubt as to whether James Curtis Giles was among the rapists. A witness recently identified the other man, James Earl Giles, in a photo lineup, Smith said.

“It is persuasive that the victim is now acknowledging some doubt,” Smith said.

The DNA evidence that linked Brown to the crime was one factor that helped convince the district attorney’s office to investigate James Curtis Giles’ claim of innocence, especially because of Brown’s “overwhelming connection” to the other James Giles, Potkin said.

“DNA evidence alone didn’t exonerate our client, but it has played an instrumental role,” Potkin said.

Giles has had to register as a sex offender since his release. He is married and lives in Lufkin with his wife, working for an accounting business, Potkin said.

“It’s been humiliating every day, knowing that a sex offender was the scum of the earth,” Giles said after the hearing Monday.

Would be county's 13th exonerated man
He is scheduled to appear Tuesday at the state Capitol in Austin with Barry Scheck, the co-director of the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center that specializes in overturning wrongful convictions. They are scheduled to speak at Senate hearings regarding three reform bills designed to reduce wrongful convictions in Texas, said Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the Innocence Project.

Giles, who is black, would be the 13th Dallas County man since 2001 exonerated by DNA evidence, the most of any county in the nation. It would be the third exoneration since District Attorney Craig Watkins took office on Jan. 1 pledging to free anyone wrongfully convicted.

Watkins, the state’s first black district attorney, took over an office with a history of racial discrimination, including a staff manual for prosecutors that described how to keep minorities off juries.

Texas leads the nation with 27 DNA exonerations, one more than Illinois, according to Innocence Project figures. There have been 198 exonerations nationwide.