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

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There's also the local case of Ruben Cantu, a San Antonio special ed student executed in 1993 for a crime he almost certainly did not commit — a key witness claimed police pressured him to implicate Cantu, and later recanted his trial testimony to the Houston Chronicle. In his 2010 TED talk, former Bexar County DA Sam Millsap, who prosecuted Cantu, explained how the case has made him oppose the death penalty.

"When I reviewed the evidence … I was shocked at what I saw," Millsap said. "I realized that I had made a horrible mistake in judgment. I had prosecuted a young man and sought the death penalty on the basis of the testimony of a single eyewitness."

If Texas this year executes Larry Swearingen for the kidnapping, rape and murder of a teenage Montgomery County girl — despite growing scientific evidence that Swearingen could not have committed the murder — then Texas could have another such case under its belt.

Pushing her bill at a committee hearing last week McClendon said, "We have a responsibility to change the criminal justice system in Texas to bring a halt, to stop this outrageous miscarriage of justice." She repeated that her bill has "absolutely noting to do with the death penalty."

Cory Session, brother of Timothy Cole — McClendon's bill's namesake — and policy director for the Innocence Project of Texas, appealed to lawmakers last week, saying exonerees and their families deserve answers that only an exoneration review commission could provide.

"Somebody somewhere needs to tell us why" Cole was convicted, he said. "I hope that one day we will know why, and we can hold those people accountable who are actually responsible for those wrongful convictions."

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