The highest criminal court in Texas overturned a man’s capital murder conviction Wednesday following a recent analysis using advanced technology that revealed his DNA was not on the murder weapon.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals tossed out the capital murder conviction of Willie Thomas stemming from a fatal shooting in Fort Worth in 2009.
Thomas was accused of robbing the New Start Club and murdering its manager Willie Walker in January of that year.
After a trial during which witnesses struggled to positively identify Thomas as the perpetrator, he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. A major factor in the conviction was a forensic DNA analyst’s statement that Thomas’ DNA was a possible match on the trigger of the murder weapon, a pistol found at the crime scene by police.
In 2015, Thomas filed a motion for the DNA evidence used in his conviction to be reanalyzed using more up-to-date technology. Later, in 2018, the more advanced DNA analysis method debunked the forensic analyst’s previous claim. Thomas had no connection to the DNA found on the gun’s trigger, according to the Innocence Project of Texas, a nonprofit dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions.
Fast forward to late 2021, a Tarrant County judge allowed Thomas to be released on bond pending judgment by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals regarding vacating his conviction in light of the new evidence.
Opting to vacate on November 15, the criminal appeals court wrote in its majority opinion, “While the analyst’s testimony was not erroneous under the standards used at the time of trial, under the current updated DNA interpretation, the analyst’s testimony is now known to be false.”
With the conviction vacated, Thomas again faces the charges of capital murder from the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office. The office must now decide whether to dismiss the case entirely or pursue a new trial.
“We are evaluating the case and have not yet made a decision as to our next step,” explained Anna Tinsley Williams, a spokesperson for the DA, according to KERA.
Advanced DNA technology has helped overturn several convictions for murder recently, including two this year from individuals sentenced to death, according to data from the National Registry of Exonerations.