DALLAS – A historic moment played out in a Dallas courtroom like a scene from a Hollywood movie. But it’s real-life drama for Michael Phillips.
He’s now the first inmate in the country released from prison without appealing his case.
“I, along with the state of Texas and Mr. Watkins, apologize for the mistakes the Justice system has made. You’re released,” the judge announced Friday morning.
Trouble started back in 1990 when a 16-year-old girl was raped at a motel where she was living.
The girl told cops even though her attacker was wearing a ski mask, she knew it was her neighbor, Phillips. She also picked him out of a photo lineup at DPD headquarters.
Phillips denied committing the rape and asked about taking a DNA test. He says his attorney advised him to plead guilty because the victim was white and he was black.
Phillips was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
“He had long ago given up on the idea that he could be proven innocent,” Colin Starger, who is part of the Dallas Conviction Integrity Unit, said.
The DCI Unit, the first of its kind in the nation, tests DNA in rape cases that have led to convictions.
“Eleven cases in total where DNA testing was done and I believe seven or eight, guilt was confirmed,” Starger explained.
But that’s not what happened when DNA tests were done in Michael Phillips’ case.
Semen taken from the rape victim did not match his DNA. Instead, it matched Lee Marvin Banks, who also lived at that motel back in 1990.
“It was all of my Father God that got me through this. That’s all that I got to say,” Phillips said.
Other exonerated inmates celebrated with Phillips. In Dallas County alone, there are 33 others.
James Giles was set free in 2007.
“We hope that the people who are looking in today will see that the system will still work. We just have to get in there and work with the system,” James Giles said.
Phillips, like the others who were exonerated, will collect $80,000 for every year he was falsely imprisoned.