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DNA Evidence Prompts Pardon Plea

July 25, 2000

HOUSTON (AP) _ Prosecutors joined with the defense in calling for the pardon of a Texas man convicted of rape 10 years ago, citing new DNA evidence found on a cigarette and a new witness.

Roy Criner, 35, was sent to prison for the rape of 16-year-old Deanna Ogg, whose nude, bludgeoned body was found in 1986. He was originally charged with murder, a count dropped for lack of evidence.

He received a 99-year prison sentence, convicted largely on the testimony of three acquaintances who said he told them he had picked up a woman and had sex with her. Prosecutors said the woman was Ogg.

``The evidence we now have shows that we couldn’t convict him of that offense,″ Montgomery County District Attorney Michael McDougal said this week.

McDougal, District Judge Mike Mayes and Montgomery County Sheriff Guy Williams are scheduled Friday to sign a statement asking the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend a pardon for Criner.

The recommendation would then go to Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican presidential candidate. Under state law, Bush cannot pardon a convict without a recommendation from the 18-member board. Since 1997, Bush has pardoned three inmates convicted of rape or sexual assault after DNA evidence ruled them out.

In Criner’s case, recently discovered DNA evidence on a cigarette someone shared with Ogg before her death suggests Criner is innocent. Defense attorneys also say they have found a new witness, the woman they say Criner actually picked up as a hitchhiker the night of Ogg’s murder.

Using previous arguments and evidence, Criner’s attorney, Michael Charlton, had challenged Criner’s convictions twice before and won both times in lower courts. But both rulings were overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest court in criminal cases.

In the second appeal, which the court turned down in 1998, the defense had contended a DNA test of semen found on the victim cleared Criner. But prosecutors said that the victim was sexually active and that the semen may have been from someone else.

Charlton said Criner had been denied justice far too long.

``The system really broke down,″ said Charlton, who represented Criner in his request for a new trial based on DNA evidence in 1998. ``He should have been given a new trial a long time ago.″

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