Bud Kennedy

Innocence Project lawyer about to be a Tarrant prosecutor again, but smarter

One of Tarrant County’s new chief prosecutors is all for exonerations.

If that sounds odd, that’s also what defense attorney Larry Moore’s friends thought when he told them he was joining up with District Attorney-elect Sharen Wilson.

“People called and said. ‘Have you lost your mind?’ ” Moore said Thursday, a day after Wilson named Moore and two other attorneys to lead her staff after Jan. 1.

He has been a chief prosecutor before. But not since 1986.

“Most of the kids in the DA’s office don’t know me from Adam,” said Moore, now a prominent criminal defense attorney who made national news helping to free a man imprisoned 23 years for a rape he didn’t commit.

Moore, a former board member of the Innocence Project of Texas, said he’s coming back in part to help prosecutors get it right.

“There is a fury across this country to make sure wrongful convictions never take place, and exonerate the innocent,” he said.

“As technology has advanced, we’ve learned that a lot of things we thought all along were true aren’t true anymore. … One of the things Sharen wants to do is to set up a conviction integrity unit” — Wilson’s announcement called it “actual innocence” — “to go in and figure if we dropped the ball.”

Most of the talk about exonerations has involved Dallas County, where defeated District Attorney Craig Watkins’ office has helped free 24 prisoners based on DNA evidence.

Tarrant County has freed only two prisoners, maybe in part because this county never had the “lock-’em-up,” tough-on-crime mindset of Dallas, but also because Dallas’ lab had preserved DNA evidence longer.

“I think people in [the late former District Attorney] Tim Curry’s office always tried to do the right thing,” Moore said.

“We didn’t have the pattern of abuse you found in Dallas. But frankly, all the evidence was destroyed here, and Dallas kept it.”

Working with the New York-based Innocence Project, Moore has helped free two prisoners, and will leave a third case to another lawyer.

He made news in 2012 by helping free David Lee Wiggins, 48, convicted of a Fort Worth rape after the 14-year-old victim said he “looks familiar” and drove a silver Camaro similar to her attacker’s.

At the time, Wiggins said: “I know everybody claims to be innocent. But as we know, some are.”

Moore said he doesn’t blame past prosecutors. A recent state law has imposed tougher rules for eyewitness identification after the posthumous pardon of Tim Cole of Fort Worth, mistakenly convicted in a 1986 rape and sentenced to serve 25 years. He died in prison in 1999.

“You can’t help the fact that what we were taught was true about identifications, now isn’t,” he said.

“What we can change is the atmosphere and attitude that we’re always right, that we’re infallible. People need to realize that criminal justice is a human endeavor, and there might be mistakes. We want to build in something to correct those wrongs.”

Moore joins Wilson’s staff along with former veteran felony prosecutor Greg Miller and current county criminal court Judge Mike Mitchell.

In 1990, Moore ran for district attorney as a Democrat but lost to Curry in a close race. Curry had beaten Wilson and others in the Republican primary.

“We didn’t agree on much, but we both thought Tim didn’t need to be re-elected,” Moore said.

“We’ve turned out to be good friends. She has some great ideas. Her commitment to doing the right thing is as fierce as I’ve ever seen.”

Our prosecutors shouldn’t be in court to win. They should be there for justice.