The three men share a history that none of us could imagine. Richard Miles, Christopher Scott and Billy Smith were wrongly convicted of crimes that they did not commit and served, cumulatively, nearly 40 years in state prison.
Through their long incarceration and the judicial proceedings that would eventually lead to their exonerations, the men developed a deep spiritual faith, extraordinary resilience, and a deep sense of purpose—a response to injustice that all of us can learn from.
Their experiences, tragically, are familiar to more than two-dozen Dallas County residents who were wrongly convicted of crimes and later exonerated with the help of Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins and justice advocates.
On September 9, at the Museum’s Upstander Speaker Series, the three men shared their stories, which are told in the book Tested: How 12 Wrongly Imprisoned Men Held on to Hope (Brown Books, 2010), by Dorothy Budd and Peyton Budd, her daughter.
Dorothy Budd, a former child sex crimes prosecutor and now an Episcopal deacon of Dallas’ Church of the Incarnation, also appeared at the event, telling a standing-room-only crowd in the Museum’s theater that the men serve as an example for humanity.
“It’s easy to say all criminals say they are innocent, so they all must be lying,” Ms. Budd said. “These three amazing men prove there are people in prison who really are innocent.”
Richard Miles spent 15 years in prison for murder and attempted murder. What troubled him most, he said, was the suffering his parents endured while he was incarcerated. “My parents were falsely imprisoned with me,” he said, noting that his father died just months before he was released. “I wasn’t’ allowed to go to my father’s funeral…”
Christopher Scott was wrongly imprisoned for capital murder for 12 years based solely on eyewitness testimony that later turned out to be false. No physical evidence—no gunshot residue, no DNA, nothing—linked him to the crime.
Billy Smith spent nearly two decades in prison, convicted of rape by eyewitness testimony even though he had a solid alibi. DNA evidence later led to his exoneration.
DA Watkins told the crowd that his Conviction Integrity Unit, which he formed in 2007 after taking office a year earlier, routinely reviews and re-investigates legitimate post-conviction innocence claims.
Dorothy Budd said her book isn’t meant to be an indictment of the U.S. justice system. To the contrary, she called it a “great” system but imperfect, as the cases she documented in her book attest.
Mr. Miles said: “There are some people who need to be locked up. I’ve met some.”
Faith, fortitude and forgiveness are takeaway lessons from Richard Miles, Christopher Scott and Billy Smith—lessons for life in even its darkest moments.
The presenting sponsor for the Upstander Speaker Series is Bank of Texas. Other sponsors of the September 9th program include Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett, Liza and William Lee and The Dallas Morning News.
On Thursday, Dec. 4 at 6:30 p.m., the next Upstander Speaker Series event will feature Harry Wu, author of several books, including Bitter Winds (Wiley, 2007), a memoir about his 19 years of imprisonment in Chinese labor camps.
–Chris Kelley, for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance