OTHER OPINION: Texas moves toward a better DNA law

By Fort Worth Star Telegram

“The state will proceed.” On three occasions in 2000, while he was the president pro tempore of the Senate and was called on to serve as the acting governor, state Sen. Rodney Ellis uttered those four words that gave the go-ahead for a man to be executed.
The Houston Democrat says he had some anxious moments on receiving the calls from Huntsville, where prison officials waited to carry out scheduled executions.
Although a proponent of the death penalty, Ellis is a champion of criminal justice reform. He has a record of introducing legislation to improve the system, including a law that would exempt the mentally ill from capital punishment and several bills designed to lessen the chance of an innocent person being convicted.
Last week, with the endorsement of the state Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, Ellis described SB 1292, a bill he has introduced that would require DNA testing of all biological evidence in death penalty cases before trial.
For a state that has executed more people than any other – 493 since 1976 – it is imperative that we are as certain as humanly possible that the person being put to death is the one who committed the crime.
Ellis noted that 303 people in the United States have been exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing, 18 of whom served time on Death Row. Therein lies a shortcoming of Ellis’ bill.
Most of the cases cleared by DNA, many of them sexual assaults, were not death penalty cases, which means there may be many others wrongly accused whom the proposed legislation would not help. That is why it is imperative that law enforcement, prosecutors and defense attorneys make full use of the science that might positively identify a suspect, or eliminate him or her.
Fort Worth Star Telegram