A judge on Monday overturned the 1993 conviction of a deaf man who was sent to prison for raping a 5-year-old girl despite an absence of physical evidence linking him to the attack.
The district attorney's office supported Stephen Brodie's claim that he is innocent during the hearing in a Dallas courtroom.
Brodie has been deaf since childhood, but police questioned him about the attack for hours without an interpreter. He eventually confessed, but later said his confession was made under duress.
When a judge ruled the confession was admissible at trial, Brodie and his attorney figured a guilty verdict, which was punishable by up to 99 years, was all but certain. So they cut a deal — pleading guilty to assaulting the girl in exchange for a five-year prison sentence. After serving that sentence, Brodie served two more prison stints totaling five more years for twice failing to register as a sex offender.
Michelle Moore, Brodie's current attorney, says prosecutors failed to notify Brodie's trial attorney that testing showed hair found at the crime scene excluded Brodie as the source.
A year after Brodie's conviction, police learned that a fingerprint found on a window at the girl's home matched that of Robert Warterfield, who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl in 1994. Warterfield also was suspected in six other sexual assaults and five attempted assaults of young girls in the Dallas area.
Warterfield, who is free and working for a yard service in Stephenville, according to the state sex offender registry, was never charged in the attack for which Brodie served time. District Attorney Craig Watkins said after the hearing that his office is investigating Warterfield and that the statute of limitations has not expired.
Warterfield appeared at Brodie's hearing Monday and invoked the Fifth Amendment, declining to provide testimony that might incriminate himself.
Richardson police discounted the Warterfield print as coincidence, saying Warterfield "somehow touched the frame when he was wandering around in the neighborhood four days prior to this offense," according to police records.
In a 1994 appeal, Brodie's attorney cited the fingerprint on the window. But a judge denied the appeal, ruling that Brodie's confession outweighed the fingerprint evidence.
Brodie was originally arrested in 1991 for stealing quarters from a vending machine at a community swimming pool. While he was being questioned about that, police began questioning him about the rape of the 5-year-old girl.
Moore says Brodie was made a scapegoat in the early 1990s, when police were under pressure to make arrests in more than a dozen sexual assaults of young girls in the north Dallas area.
Dallas County has exonerated 20 wrongly convicted people in recent years through DNA testing — more than any other county nationally and all but two states. But the Brodie case does not involve DNA. Instead, it is the county's first potential exoneration involving a false confession, Moore said.
Brodie is the second exoneration case in two years involving Richardson police. The first was Thomas McGowan, who was freed in 2008 after serving 23 years of a life sentence for a rape he did not commit.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.