A Tarrant County man convicted of sexual assault in 1995 has had the conviction vacated after investigators determined that prosecutors intentionally withheld evidence that would have exonerated the defendant.
The Tarrant County criminal district attorney’s (CDA) office conviction integrity unit began investigating the case in 2016 after evidence confirming Roger Earl Hawkins’ alibi came to light. Hawkins had been released in 2005 after spending 10 years in prison.
On August 24, 2022, 371st District Court Judge Ryan Hill issued a ruling concurring with the CDA that the conviction should be thrown out because Hawkins was innocent of the crime.
The court also confirmed they would look into likely Brady violations by prosecutors in the case.
“The criminal justice system failed Mr. Hawkins,” CIU Chief Steven Conder said. “He was wrongfully convicted because there was no thorough investigation of his case or defense of him.”
The CIU recognized how the conviction impacted the innocent man. “Mr. Hawkins’ life was fundamentally altered by mistakes made, and I’m proud we were able to correct them.”
According to court filings, the case originated in 1991 when a 13-year-old female alleged that five young men broke into her home and three of the individuals sexually assaulted her. The female was unable to identify the perpetrators but pointed to a Crowley High School yearbook photo of Hawkins as a suspect.
Hawkins was a 19-year-old sophomore at the time and was enrolled in special education classes at the school also attended by the victim. When questioned by police, Hawkins told them that he was in school at the time of the alleged assault.
School attendance records and signed affidavits from Hawkins’ teachers confirmed that he was in school at the time of the assault; however, prosecutors did not provide the attendance records or affidavits to defense attorneys.
When initially questioned, Hawkins admitted to knowing the female and talking to her once at a basketball game where she was a cheerleader. He had asked for a photograph and her phone number, which she gave him, but they had not interacted since.
Police conducted a polygraph test on Hawkins in 1991 without an attorney present. The investigators told Hawkins he failed the polygraph test and that there were no school attendance records to verify his alibi.
Neither the defendant nor his attorney was ever provided with the polygraph test results.
After being told that he failed the polygraph test, Hawkins told police that he had gone to the victim’s house where the two had kissed, and he had attempted to touch her sexually, but she refused him.
After his admission, prosecutors offered Hawkins a plea deal that would see him serve six years for digital penetration.
Hawkins pleaded guilty in 1995 to avoid a possible life sentence and to escape assaults that happened to him while incarcerated in Tarrant County Jail.
Court records show that prosecutors interviewed the victim about the claim made by Hawkins, which she denied and stated that Hawkins was never in her home alone with her at any time. This information was also not provided to the defense.
Further, the district attorney informed prosecutors that the office was not willing to bring the case to a jury based on inconsistencies and a lack of credibility of the victim. Without the guilty plea, Hawkins likely would not have been tried.
Once the CIU began looking into the case, they were able to find the original school attendance records and signed affidavits which prosecutors had marked for disposal. They also found transcripts of interviews with the victim in which she stated that Hawkins never touched her.
The investigators determined that the conviction was based solely on his forced admission of guilt after being told he failed the polygraph test and was threatened with life in prison.
“There is no justice in an innocent person being convicted of a crime that did not happen,” Judge Hill wrote in his opinion while vacating the conviction, “and there is no justice when the perpetrators of a crime that did happen go free because the wrong man was blamed.”
It is not clear whether Hawkins, now 49, will file a civil suit against the County for unlawful incarceration.