Delay of DNA tests helped man linked
to robbery, rape go free
By JENNIFER EMILY and STEVE McGONIGLE
The Dallas Morning News
Dallas County Sheriff's Dept.
Patrick Leondos Waller
DNA testing could have freed Patrick Leondos Waller seven years ago from a life sentence for armed robbery and kept the real criminal in prison.
But because former Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill objected, Mr. Waller's efforts to obtain genetic testing were delayed until last fall. That was long enough for the man science has now identified as the perpetrator to elude justice for the crime that also included a rape and kidnapping.
DNA tests have now cleared Mr. Waller. The district attorney's office said two men who recently confessed to the 1992 crime cannot be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has expired. One of the men, whom DNA evidence definitively links to the crime, was paroled in February after serving 15 years for burglary.
Had Mr. Hill granted testing earlier, the man's parole may have been denied and he could have served the remainder of his 45-year sentence, a top prosecutor and Mr. Waller's attorney said Thursday.
"We've done all we can," said Mike Ware, who oversees the district attorney's conviction integrity unit. "If the test had been done earlier, we could have confirmed it and notified the parole board."
Wrongful Dallas County convictions cleared by DNA testing since 2001
Mr. Hill could not be reached for comment Thursday. John Rolater, who once oversaw DNA test requests for the district attorney's office and is now in the Collin County district attorney's office, could also not be reached.
Mr. Waller remains in prison and his attorney, Gary Udashen, said Thursday that he had not spoken with him yet. A judge could release Mr. Waller at a hearing scheduled for next week.
Mr. Waller was 22 and on probation for cocaine possession when he was arrested in March 1992 after a married couple in their 20s was abducted at gunpoint by two men in the West End.
The abductors took the couple to an ATM and then to an abandoned building in Oak Cliff that the two men who confessed to the crime call "the castle." The woman was sexually assaulted there by both men, but DNA was only found for one.
Another couple then drove up to the house, and one of the men forced that couple inside at gunpoint. The couple was lost and got out of the car to take photos of the building because it was interesting.
The men left separately in cars belonging to the couples after a security guard drove by and scared them off. The victims then untied each other.
Mr. Waller was arrested after a Dallas police officer selected him from a photo lineup as one of two men who fled from police in the West End days after the robbery.
At trial, prosecutors presented the identification of Mr. Waller by three of the victims and the police officer. They also introduced testimony from a forensic analyst who said Mr. Waller's blood type was consistent with that of the rapist. No DNA testing was performed at that time.
A Dallas County jury convicted Mr. Waller of aggravated robbery in December 1992 and sentenced him to life in prison. Mr. Waller then pleaded guilty to two aggravated kidnapping charges in exchange for dual, 30-year prison terms.
He was one of the first Dallas County inmates to apply after a state law allowing post-conviction testing was enacted in 2001. He applied for a second DNA test in 2005.
Mr. Udashen said prosecutors under Mr. Hill opposed both requests for testing. One prosecutor testified at a hearing that she would prosecute him again even if the DNA testing cleared him. Two trial judges and two state appeals courts agreed that testing should be denied.
Craig Watkins, who succeeded Mr. Hill as district attorney in January 2007, granted the DNA test to Mr. Waller. The results came back six months ago, but the tests did not fully exonerate him then because the victim was sexually assaulted by two men.
Early this year, DNA from the case matched DNA of a 38-year-old Dallas man serving time for burglary that occurred months after the abduction, Mr. Ware said. DNA connected Byron Demond Bell, the man who was serving a 45-year-sentence for burglary of a residence that occurred months after the abduction, Mr. Ware said. In April, DNA taken from Mr. Bell, now 38, to double-check the hit was once again a match.
Mr. Udashen said Mr. Hill's office paved the way for Mr. Bell to go free.
"Had they done a DNA test back in 2001 or 2005, they would have matched it up to Bell, and Bell would have never been paroled," Mr. Udashen said.
In May, the man linked to the crime by DNA confessed to Mr. Ware at the office of his parole officer that he committed the crimes and named the other man involved, Mr. Ware said.
Mr. Ware later interviewed that person, Lemondo Simmons, a 35-year-old Dallas man who went to prison in 2002 for assault on a public servant and was released in 2004. He admitted to his role in the crime as well, Mr. Ware said.
Both men were subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury where they admitted to the offenses, Mr. Ware said. One testified in May, and the other told his story to grand jurors on Wednesday.
Neither man could be reached for comment Thursday.
Mr. Waller is the 18th man exonerated by DNA in Dallas County. The county has more DNA exonerations than any other in the country since 2001 when the state legislature allowed post-conviction DNA testing.
Mr. Watkins, who took office in January 2007, formed a conviction integrity unit that is reviewing DNA tests previously denied under Mr. Hill.
Mr. Waller is at least the fourth man cleared by DNA after Mr. Hill denied them testing.
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