University of Baltimore Law Professor Helps Exonerate Texas Man Convicted of Rape
Colin Starger, a professor in the University of Baltimore School of Law, was part of a team whose research resulted in the July 25 exoneration of a Texas man who was falsely convicted of rape in 1990. Michael Phillips spent 12 years in prison, plus an additional six months for failing to report as a sex offender.
Phillips, who is black, pleaded guilty to raping a 16-year-old white girl at the Dallas motel where they both lived. The victim picked Phillips out of a photo lineup. Though Phillips proclaimed his innocence, his lawyer persuaded him to plead guilty rather than to risk conviction at trial.
The exoneration is the first of its kind in the United States, as Phillips, now 57, never requested DNA testing to prove his innocence. The DNA information came to light during an ongoing investigation into untested sexual-assault kits by Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins.
Prof. Starger helped with the investigation, working without compensation under the supervision of the Dallas County Conviction Integrity Unit to test unexamined sexual assault evidence taken from the victim after the 1990 rape. Samuel Gross, professor of law at the University of Michigan and the editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, also worked on the project.
In a news release, the Dallas County District Attorney's Office said: "Professor Colin Starger of the University of Baltimore School of Law … worked tirelessly on the project to review these untested sexual assault kits."
Phillips is the 34th person to be exonerated by the work of the Dallas DA's Conviction Integrity Unit.
From 2003 to 2007, Starger worked as a staff attorney at the Innocence Project at Cardozo Law School. At the Innocence Project, Starger was lead counsel on four DNA exonerations, including one from Oklahoma's death row.
When it was established that the DNA in the victim's rape kit did not match Phillips' genetic profile, the DNA sample was uploaded to the FBI's Combined DNA Index System—and matched that of a man who had also lived in the Dallas motel at the time of the rape. Like Phillips, he was black.
Phillips, who was released from prison in 2002, is unemployed and lives in a nursing home; he suffers from sickle cell anemia. According to the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, the State of Texas will pay an exonerated prisoner $80,000 for each year of a wrongful conviction.
Read USA Today's coverage of the exoneration.
Read the announcement from the Dallas County District Attorney's Office.
Read coverage of the exoneration, including comments from Starger, in the Dallas Morning News.
Learn more about Colin Starger.
The University of Baltimore is a member of the University System of Maryland and comprises the College of Public Affairs, the Merrick School of Business, the UB School of Law and the Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences.