The following is from the March 28, 2008, edition of The Dallas Morning News. SMU Law Professor Fred Moss provided expertise for this story.
By JENNIFER EMILY
The Dallas Morning News
In a rare move, a Dallas County judge ruled Friday that he believes a man convicted of a deadly aggravated robbery two decades ago is innocent and deserves a new trial.
The strongly worded, 42-page ruling by State District Judge Rick Magnis does not automatically free Ben Spencer from prison. But Mr. Spencer's supporters say it does show what they have been trying to prove for years: that he did not kill businessman Jeffrey Young in 1987.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin must approve the judge's recommendation for a new trial for Mr. Spencer – who is serving a life sentence – and could disagree with his ruling altogether. . .
Southern Methodist University law professor Fred Moss, a former federal prosecutor, called Judge Magnis' decision of actual innocence "very unusual."
"You don't often at all find judges coming to such a conclusion," he said. "The system is pretty jaundiced against these things."
Mr. Moss said Dallas County's 15 DNA exonerations – more than any other county in the nation since 2001 – could be a factor in the judge's decision even though there was no biological evidence in Mr. Spencer's case.
"Perhaps we are not as confident as we were in the system and are willing to admit mistakes," he said.
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