Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $599,504)
Travis County, in partnership with the Innocence Project of Texas (IPTX), has proposed the "Confession Review Team: A Joint Venture between the Travis County District Attorney's Office and the Innocence Project of Texas" to address the need for a close review of Austin Police Department's (APD) Homicide Unit cases from 1985 to 1995. The proposal comes after a 1992 joint task force between APD and the Travis County District Attorney's Office (TCDA) discovered six false confessions elicited during the scope of the homicide unit’s investigations. However, after this investigation was closed, another four cases came to light that involved coercive interrogation and false confessions, all linked to a single homicide detective who was involved in the APD Homicide Unit and trained other investigators during this time period.
The proposed Confession Review Team, jointly undertaken by the TDCA's Conviction Integrity Unit and IPTX, aims to strategically review APD homicide cases from 1985-1995 with a focus on those at greatest risk for error and rank the cases reviewed according to priority, obtain and evaluate cases with the highest possibility of a potential false confession and a defendant that is still incarcerated, evaluate all evidence obtained to determine whether each case involves actual innocence or wrongful conviction, litigate appropriate legal claims, and evaluate and document deficiencies found in each wrongful conviction case uncovered, and identify the root causes in order to prevent wrongful convictions in the future.
By ensuring that all potential cases of coerced confessions and wrongful convictions are closely reviewed, and that any cases of wrongful conviction or actual innocence are litigated, this project will help ensure that innocent people are not wrongly convicted, that the guilty are held accountable, and that there is integrity in the criminal justice process. The program service area encompasses approximately 692 square miles of south-central Texas hill country and is home to over a million residents. To complete this project, Travis County requests $599,504 to hire a full-time, experienced Attorney and an Administrative Investigator over the two-year grant period, along with a full-time Office Specialist for the first year of the project. This request also includes funds for DNA testing required to fully investigate cases of potential wrongful conviction and supplies and training costs to support the efforts of the grant-funded personnel.