Updated at 1:41 p.m. with comment from the original prosecutor in the case, Rick Jackson, who denied withholding evidence and said he believes Stanley Mozee and Dennis Allen are guilty.
Stanley Mozee and Dennis Allen waited 19 1/2 years for this moment — for the courts to confirm they were innocent in the stabbing death of a South Dallas minister.
Their time finally came Friday, when state District Judge Raquel “Rocky” Jones did just that. She declared the two “actually innocent” of capital murder.
They walked out of a Dallas County courtroom changed men.
“And with that, ladies and gentlemen, you have two free, innocent men,” Jones declared, standing in front of her bench. Those filling the courtroom benches broke into applause.
Outside the court, Mozee and Allen stood in front of cameras, attorneys and journalists and thanked God, their attorneys with the Innocence Project of Texas and New York, and District Attorney John Creuzot.
At their trial in 2000, when they received life sentences, a Dallas prosecutor withheld evidence that would have exonerated them. DNA evidence excludes them as the Rev. Jesse Borns’ killers, and law enforcement is searching for the true killers.
Spending nearly 15 years in prison, said Allen, now 56, “was like being kidnapped and held hostage. Today is like being released from bondage.”
Mozee, 60, said despite his wrongful conviction and the prosecutor withholding evidence, he never lost faith that he would one day be freed. Along the way, he said, he stumped, doubted and cried. Mozee confessed but later said his confession was false.
“The truth shall come to light, and it has come to light,” he said.
Once the Court of Criminal Appeals agrees that Allen and Mozee were wrongly convicted, they will join the nearly 40 other Dallas exonerees who are compensated by the state for their wrongful convictions.
Texas exonerees receive a lump sum payment of $80,000 for every year of wrongful incarceration plus a monthly payment that differs based on each exoneree.
Allen and Mozee were homeless and struggling with drug addiction when they were charged with killing Borns, a pastor who reached out to downtrodden South Dallas residents after his own release from prison. Borns was stabbed 47 times in his woodworking shop in April 1999. Borns paid homeless people, including Mozee, to sweep it.
Creuzot said he had already privately apologized to Allen and Mozee for the injustice done to them and did so again in court.
“I want to apologize to these two gentlemen for what they’ve gone though,” Creuzot said, standing at the prosecution table in the courtroom. “We’re deeply sorry.”
Later, Creuzot, a Democrat who took office in January, acknowledged that justice for Allen and Mozee has been a long time coming.
“Justice can be slow,” Creuzot said. “But today is truly a great day.”
Mozee and Allen’s cases were first reopened 10 years ago by District Attorney Craig Watkins, and then his successors — Susan Hawk, Faith Johnson and Creuzot — all worked on the case. All four district attorneys, two Democrats and two Republicans, supported the finding of actual innocence.
Evidence of the men’s innocence was found in the prosecution’s own files after Watkins opened the documents to attorneys working on post-conviction cases.
The men have been free since 2014 after an investigation by the the DA’s office and the Innocence Projects in Texas and New York. In 2018, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the lead trial prosecutor, Rick Jackson, withheld evidence that would have benefited Mozee and Allen at trial.
Jackson insisted Friday in an interview that the men are guilty and said he handed all evidence over to the defense. He was not aware the men had been declared innocent.
Nina Morrison, an attorney with the Innocence Project in New York, detailed the evidence that was withheld in the case:
- Evidence that jailhouse informants who testified had expected reduced sentences in their own cases despite the prosecution saying that wasn’t the case.
- Witness descriptions that one tall man and one short man were seen arguing with Borns that day. One of the men had “messed up eyes and scars on his face,” Morrison said. Both Mozee and Allen are over 6 feet tall. Neither man has facial scars.
- According to trial testimony, police said eyewitnesses picked at least one of the men out of a lineup. But prosecution files show that four eyewitnesses did not pick the men out of lineups. One witness initially picked Allen out of a lineup. But when the witness saw Allen in court, he told law enforcement that Allen was not the person he had seen.
“This is not a case of witness misidentification,” which is frequently found in exonerations in Dallas and around the country, Morrison said. “The witnesses got it right and the jury never heard about it.”
Jackson, the prosecutor, said he handed over the information he’s accused of withholding to defense attorneys. He also said the jailhouse witnesses and their attorneys got no deals for their testimony.
But Morrison said letters in the file indicated that the witnesses expected a deal and that a detective went to court on behalf of two witnesses to keep them out of prison.
Jackson said that the courts did not have all the information and that he has been treated poorly by the process of freeing Mozee and Allen.
“I just want to be treated fairly,” Jackson said. “I doubt that’s going to happen.”
Morrison and attorney Gary Udashen, president of the Innocence Project of Texas, who also worked on the case, said Allen’s and Mozee’s exonerations would never have happened without the openness of the DA’s office. They urged other district attorneys around the country to follow the example set by Dallas and the four district attorneys who supported the men’s innocence.
“There’s nothing to hide but the truth,” Morrison said. “And everyone benefits from the truth.”