Many years take on a life of their own. 1980 is one of those years – just mention the year and the feelings come rushing in. The first thing I think of, when I hear 1980, is large conditioned hair and tight pants. It was 1980 that Ronald Reagan replaced Jimmy Carter as U.S. president, and the United States Government built a tax-supported army led by Osama Bin Laden, to fight off the Russian invasion of Afgahnistan. It was1980 that we lost John Lennon, John Bonham, and Bon Scott too early. John Belushi was still alive, though.
Great movies like the Shining and Raging Bull were released, as was Tess and the Empire Strikes Back, Ordinary People, and 9 to 5. The Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series with Pete Rose and Nino Espinosa. And Bobby Cox was managing the Atlanta Braves. Magic Johnson was rookie winning the NBA championship, and Michael Jordan was in high school. U2, Iron Maiden, the Circle Jerks, and Huey Lewis and the News all had debut albums. Kool and the Gang and Blondie were pumping out hits.
We all have our own strong memories from 1980. For James Lee Woodard, that memory is of the last year of freedom from prison, before he was arrested for a rape and murder he did not commit. A judge ruled that DNA evidence cleared Mr. Woodard of the crime he was convicted. Yesterday, James Lee Woodard walked out of prison for the first time in over 27 years. Like many worngful convictions, this one was based on eye-witness testimony – which is significantly unreliable.
Also upsettingly familiar is the way the prosecutor and police fought against his release and justice. At one point Prosecutors claims of no pohysical evidence whatsoever got the case thrown out. That turned out to be completely false. “That was a lie, we discovered there was evidence to test. This proves that the callous and cavalier attitude of the court of criminal appeals and other courts in this state toward these kind of claims should come to an end.” said Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas.
Much of the credit for this recent overturned wrongful conviction has been given to Dallas DA (District Attorney), Craig Watkins, who started the program of using law students to review potential wrongful convictions. In a country where prosecutors and DA’s run amok, imprisoning as many as possible, regardless of innocence or guilt – this program is refreshing. As refreshing as freedom is to James Lee Woodard.