'Justice Served Act' to help jurisdictions solve DNA cold cases

Sometimes the wrong person ends up behind bars.  

Case in point, Michael Morton in Williamson County who was wrongfully convicted for the murder of his wife and spent 24-years in prison. It was DNA that finally cleared his name.

During a Thursday press conference at the Williamson County courthouse, Congressman John Carter, a judge there at one time, detailed the "Justice Served Act of 2018," signed into law by President Trump on Air Force One. "What this grant does is it provides money to prosecutors' offices but also to other people who want to apply for the grant to help go out there and get this DNA testing that's been done on these cases, look at it and see if we can do anything with it," said Allison Clayton, Deputy Director of the Innocence Project of Texas.

The Congressman says the Debbie Smith Act was created to get DNA testing done on old rape kits.  But when you add cold cases to a regular docket that may take funding that just isn't there.

So the Justice Served Act will allow a certain portion of the Debbie Smith Act money to go toward paying for prosecuting those cases. "There's also a lot of old murder cases, any kind of case you can think of where there would be DNA evidence left behind.  That's the kind of cases, the really big, really bad crimes are the kinds of cases that are implicated by this act," Clayton said.  

"Our job, our statutory duty in Texas is to see that justice is done, not merely to seek convictions.  And that's a statutory duty that we hold very dear here in Texas," said Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick. Dick says the grant opens up opportunities to do some scientific testing to further an investigation that might not have been possible with just county or state funds.  

"It not only allows us to seek convictions for those that are truly guilty of the offense that they are charged with but it also allows us to clear people who are wrongfully charged," Dick said.

Dick wouldn't go into detail about specific cases but did mention the most obvious one. "Obviously our Rachel Cooke case is one that we're hoping yield some evidence and yield some information so any of these funds that now have been turned on will hopefully help in all the investigations," Dick said.

The Williamson County Sheriff's office says they are currently working on 14 cold cases.

Deputy Tim Ryle says they'll look at those to see where forensic science makes sense and that will determine what dollar amount they'll be asking for.