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Would a new state commission finally keep us from throwing innocents in prison?

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"Several times they went down to the DA's office to try to tell someone Gilbert didn't do this," Smith told the Current last week. "Of course, totally oblivious to how the system works, they thought that was all that was needed. … Nobody helped them, and for a while they gave up in frustration."

Valdez again sought to clear his name four years ago when he couldn't find work due to his sex-offender status.

"When I finally looked at the investigation file, it took me all of ten minutes to figure out, good God, this case never should have been filed," Smith said. "It's like no one actually read this file carefully at any stage — not his lawyers, not the DA, not the police, and certainly not the grand jury that indicted him."

In Valdez's writ of habeas corpus petition, Smith argued that inadequate legal assistance and Bexar County's failure to turn over exculpatory evidence — the girl's statements to police and hospital workers — resulted in Valdez's guilty plea. At an evidentiary hearing in 2011, the victim again testified that two other men, not Valdez, raped her.

Valdez's conviction was overturned and charges were dismissed last year.

Michael Alvarado and friend John Brown III were out cruising when they pulled into a local H-E-B parking lot the early morning hours of May 4, 1998. As they neared an intersection, a white car pulled up and a man emerged. He walked over to the driver's side window, briefly argued with Brown, then shot him in the chest. Brown's car shot forward as he slumped over the steering wheel, his foot lodged on the gas pedal.

Brown died at the hospital.

Alvarado initially told police the gunman was a black man, somewhere between 5 feet, 7 inches and 5 feet, 9 inches tall. When Brown's grieving mother later saw a police sketch that aired on TV, she drew up a sketch of her own. When months passed without a lead in the case, she started flashing her sketch of the suspect everywhere she went. During a hospital visit, a nurse thought she recognized the drawing as Andre Haygood, a 24-year-old suspected gang member with prior convictions for drug possession, assault, and burglary.

Haygood was charged with murder after Alvarado picked him out of a photo lineup. Police showed Alvarado a dated photograph of Haygood, and never told him Haygood, at 6 feet, 3 inches, was considerably taller than his initial description. Years later, Alvarado would testify he was "shocked" to see Haygood was so tall when he entered the courtroom at trial.

Prosecutors insisted Haygood killed Brown during a botched carjacking attempt, while Haygood's family testified he'd been fast asleep with his kids the night of the murder. During his raucous 2002 trial, one of Haygood's defense attorneys was thrown from the courtroom and briefly placed in a holding cell. When Haygood was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, one family member shrieked in the courtroom, according to an Express-News account at the time, while another a family member gave jurors the finger.

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