The Collin County court in Texas has dismissed capital murder charges against Michael Blair who had been on death row for the 1993 murder of Ashley Estell. After more than a decade of legal appeals and requests for DNA testing, the hair evidence that had been used to convict Blair was shown to be mistaken. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found that no reasonable jury would convict Blair based on the existing evidence.
The District Attorney’s office filed a motion to dismiss the charges on August 25, stating, “It has been determined that this case should be dismissed in the interest of justice so that the offense charged in the indictment can be further investigated.” The Plano Police Department is now reinvestigating the 15-year-old case to find the true killer. The DNA evidence that cleared Blair indicates that another man, now deceased, is a plausible suspect in the girl's death. Referred to only as “Suspect 4” in court documents, this possible perpetrator showed an obsession with the victim and bought a grave plot as close as he could get next to her resting place. He has been deceased for at least 10 years.
The case was made famous in the mid-1990’s by a series of legal reforms known as “Ashley’s Laws.” Named after the victim Ashley Estell, these laws created longer prison sentences and lifetime sex offender registration requirements.
According to DPIC’s innocence list, Blair is the fourth person to be exonerated from death row in 2008 and the ninth in Texas since the death penalty was reinstated. His case brings the total number of exonerations from death row to 130 since 1973. Blair remains in prison on other charges.
DPIC’s innocence list consists of those former death row inmates who have been acquitted of all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row, who have had all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row dismissed by the prosecution, or who have been granted a complete pardon based on evidence of innocence.
This dismissal comes on the heels of a statement by Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins that he will re-examine nearly 40 death penalty convictions and would halt executions, if necessary, to give the reviews time to proceed. After an exoneration of an innocent man in his first week in office and a total of 19 DNA-based (non-death penalty) exonerations in his county, Watkins wanted to ensure that no innocent people were executed during his tenure. “I don’t want someone to be executed on my watch for something they didn’t do,” explained Watkins. Texas leads the country in executions with 414, including 9 this year.
(W. Hundley, "Collin County Court dismisses murder charge in Ashley Estell Case", Dallas Morning News, September 16, 2008; innocence list information from DPIC).
source: Death Penalty Information Center