Texas court throws out Willie Thomas’ murder conviction, but the case isn’t over
The highest criminal court in Texas has thrown out Willie Thomas’ capital murder conviction, after a new analysis found his DNA wasn't on the murder weapon.
Thomas was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2011 after he was accused of robbing a Fort Worth club and killing the manager, Willie Walker. A forensic DNA analyst testified that Thomas’ DNA “could not be excluded as the DNA found on the trigger” of the pistol used to shoot Walker, according to the Innocence Project of Texas, a nonprofit that works to overturn wrongful convictions and is working on Thomas’ case.
In 2021, an updated form of DNA analysis found Thomas did not contribute to the DNA found on the gun’s trigger, and Thomas was released on bond, according to court documents. On Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals vacated Thomas’ conviction entirely.
“While the analyst’s testimony was not erroneous under the standards used at the time of trial, under the current updated DNA interpretation, the analyst’s testimony is now known to be false,” the court wrote in its majority opinion.
Vacating the conviction sends the case “back to square one,” Innocence Project of Texas Executive Director Mike Ware said.
Thomas is still charged with capital murder, and the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office can choose to throw out the case or prosecute it again, Ware said.
“The difference now is the DNA evidence that was used at trial to directly connect him to the murder weapon, now says that he's not connected to the murder weapon,” he said.
It’s unclear what the DA’s office will do.
“We are evaluating the case and have not yet made a decision as to our next step,” DA spokesperson Anna Tinsley Williams wrote in an email.
Under Texas law, people have the right to ask for new DNA analysis if technology has improved since their conviction. Thomas first filed a motion for that reanalysis back in 2015, without the help of a lawyer, Innocence Project attorney Caitlin Gilbert said.
“He knows his case well, as most folks who maintain their innocence do," she said.
Ware now hopes the Tarrant County DA’s Office will throw out the case, he said. In the meantime, his attorneys will argue for looser bond requirements, so Thomas can find work.
Thomas himself feels “truly blessed” by the court’s latest decision, he said in an Innocence Project of Texas news bulletin.
“For anyone out there in prison who is innocent, don’t give up on your life. Always keep fighting,” he said.
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