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Guilty in 46 minutes; free after a decade

James Waller is a mellow guy. That kind of surprises me, considering what this 50-year-old Dallas man has been through.

James has spent half his life in prison and on parole as a convicted rapist. But a Texas judge recently determined a horrible mistake was made. DNA testing has proven James could not have committed the rape of a 12-year-old boy in 1982.

James’ conviction was largely the result of the victim’s identification of the rapist. The child told police his perpetrator was about 5’8" tall. James Waller is 6’4". The 12-year-old also testified the rapist was a black man and that he spotted him at a neighborhood 7-11. James Waller was one of the only black people who lived in the neighborhood.

The jury took 46 minutes to find Waller guilty. He then spent more than a decade in prison. Now, after the judge’s decision to clear him, the new district attorney in Dallas County has apologized to Waller and has also acknowledged his innocence. The real rapist has never been apprehended.

In addition to all his legal struggles, James has had to deal with the fact his wife and unborn daughter were killed in a car crash while he was out on parole and trying to prove his innocence. James remains devastated over that loss, and says he almost gave up on everything after their deaths in 2001.

James has become the 12th person since 2001 exonerated in Dallas County, Texas. That is more exonerations than any other county in the United States. Why so many in this one county?

The general consensus among people we interviewed seems to be a combination of inappropriately aggressive prosecutions and the fact that Dallas County does a better job saving old DNA evidence than many other jurisdictions. Waller’s battle was championed by the New York City-based Innocence Project, which takes up similar cases throughout the country.

Today, Waller has a job, a college degree that he obtained while in prison, and helps feed the homeless on his own time. But he still doesn’t officially have his name back. That’s because under Texas law, the governor has to sign off on the exoneration to make it official. Six weeks have gone by since the judge’s declaration of innocence, and there is no timetable yet from Governor Rick Perry’s office.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Perry says, "There is no time frame in which the governor has to act."

So while Waller waits and wonders why the governor is taking so long, he is planning for the future. He hopes to leave Texas (he’s not allowed to leave now because he is still on parole) and wants to remarry and have a child someday. He says if he has a girl he’ll name her Grace, which was going to be the name of his baby daughter. If it’s a boy, James Waller says he will name him Mercy.