Man wrongly convicted in ’90 sex assault will be released today

Man wrongly convicted in ’90 sex assault will be released today

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

By JENNIFER EMILY / The Dallas Morning News

[email protected]

Stephen Matthew Brodie spent nearly 20 years trying to convince authorities
that he was wrongly convicted of sexually assaulting a Richardson girl in

On Monday, a state district judge finally agreed. But instead of a joyous
reunion with his father – his only family – the 39-year-old’s “reward” was
one more long night behind bars.

Paperwork that would have expedited Brodie’s release on bond Monday didn’t
reach Texas prison system officials until after their 5 p.m. closing time,
meaning he won’t gain his freedom until today.

That snafu was just the latest in a long line of procedural and legal
setbacks for Brodie, who is deaf.

He had been held in prison on a Lamar County charge of failing to register
as a sex offender when he was released there on probation. But since he
didn’t commit the initial crime, there was no need to register.

His father, J. Steve Brodie, waited hours Monday for his son’s release.
Although he was disappointed, he said the delay was merely “a stumble” in
the long wait to clear his son’s name.

“I can live with that,” said the father. “There’s a brighter tomorrow.”

In an interview inside the Dallas courtroom of State District Judge Lena
Levario, who moments earlier had declared him innocent, Stephen Brodie said
through an interpreter that he was always confident of his exoneration.

“I could feel God has already set up a time that I would be released,” said
Brodie, who smiled and wiped away tears as Levario declared his innocence.
“I feel like a burden has been lifted.”

Guilty plea

Brodie originally pleaded guilty in 1993 to the abduction and assault of a
5-year-old girl in exchange for a five-year sentence. He had come to
investigators’ attention when he was arrested and confessed to breaking into
a soft drink machine not far from the girl’s home.

During Monday’s three-hour hearing, Levario heard from prosecution and
defense witnesses about problems with the investigation.

Evidence showed that shortly after Brodie’s plea, police matched a
fingerprint found on a window screen at the girl’s house to a suspected
serial rapist, Robert Warterfield, who was convicted of a similar crime.
Also, Brodie’s attorney was not told that a hair found on the girl’s blanket
did not match Brodie or anyone in the girl’s family.

It is unclear whether Dallas County prosecutors knew about the hair and did
not tell Brodie’s attorney as required by law. Richardson police said they
turned over all evidence to prosecutors. Meg Brooks, the original prosecutor
in the case who is now a prosecutor in Travis County, could not be reached
for comment.

Retired Richardson police Officer Kevin Hughes, who reviewed the case after
the fingerprint match was found, said he had “reservations” in the 1990s
about Brodie’s guilt. Hughes said questions he raised with his superiors
about the fingerprint and whether Brodie’s confession was real were
dismissed. His bosses also refused to allow him to send the window screen to
the FBI.

Brodie also confessed to a crime that Dallas police made up when they were
questioning him about other cases, a point that would raise doubts about
whether his confession to an actual crime was legitimate. Testimony at
Monday’s hearing showed that an American Sign Language interpreter was not
always present during Brodie’s 18 hours of interrogation by police over
eight days.

There were other problems with the investigation as well, including evidence
that police told Brodie the time of day the crime happened, details of how
the attacker got into the girl’s home and what the attacker did. But even
so, Brodie incorrectly described the crime to police. Only two of the 45
details Brodie provided were correct, according to testimony.

For Monday’s hearing, Dallas County prosecutors Mike Ware and Terri Moore
and Brodie’s attorney, Michelle Moore, subpoenaed Warterfield, the man whose
print was found on the window. He invoked his constitutional right not to

Jim Hammond, an investigator with the district attorney’s office, said that
when he met with Warterfield at his Stephenville home, Warterfield said “he
had been expecting us.” Hammond testified that he told Warterfield that he
was trying to figure out the truth of what had happened.

“He said it wouldn’t be in his best interest,” Hammond said.

Warterfield has not been charged, but authorities say they plan to continue
their investigation.

Richardson police Detective Jonathan Wakefield wouldn’t say whether the
department now agrees that Brodie is innocent, saying “we’re going to abide
by the court’s decision.” Asked about testimony regarding problems with the
investigation, Wakefield said there are “multiple views and opinions” about
how it was handled.

Timing questioned
The father of the victim said that his family has struggled coming to terms
with Stephen Brodie’s innocence.

“Our family feels a lot of empathy for Mr. Brodie. My daughter cried
tonight,” said the father, who is not being identified to protect the
victim’s identity.

But the man questioned the timing of Brodie’s release, saying it was close
to the November election in which Dallas County District Attorney Craig
Watkins faces Republican Danny Clancy. The man said the district attorney’s
office has had the information used to release Brodie for months.

“We feel it is a shame Mr. Brodie had to remain in jail until four weeks
before the election for what we feel are political reasons,” he said.

But a spokesman for Watkins’ re-election said that was not the case.

“District Attorney Watkins … never considers those things,” Eric Celeste
said. “It was only about serving justice.”

Watkins, who has routinely blamed prior district attorneys’ administrations
for problems in the Dallas County justice system, said that police and
prosecutors need to learn from this case and move forward.

“We need to get past placing blame,” Watkins said. “We need to recognize a
mistake was made” and change how interrogations are done.

If the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals approves Levario’s ruling, Brodie
will become the third man in Dallas County cleared without DNA evidence. He
would also become the second exoneration in Richardson and the second Dallas
County case in which a defendant was exonerated after pleading guilty to a

The county also has 20 DNA exonerations – more than any other county in the
nation since 2001, when Texas began allowing post-conviction genetic

Brodie’s father said he never doubted his son’s innocence and he was
determined to win his release.

He wrote letters to groups across the country seeking help for his son, and
finally got Dallas County prosecutors to look into the case.

“As I approached my 75th birthday, I thought I’d better do something to try
and get him out,” the father said. “It worked.”


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