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Henry Wade

Henry Menasco Wade (November 11, 1914 – March 1, 2001), was a Texas lawyer who participated in two of the most notable U.S. court cases of the 20th century, the prosecution of Jack Ruby for killing Lee Harvey Oswald and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing abortion, Roe v. Wade. In addition, Wade was District Attorney when Randall Dale Adams, the subject of the documentary film The Thin Blue Line, was convicted in the murder of Robert Wood, a Dallas police officer. After his tenure as D.A., Wade's office was found to have placed a number of later proven innocent defendants in jail, with evidence being intentionally overlooked and withheld from the defense and jury.[1]

Contents

Biography

Wade, one of eleven children, was born in Rockwall County, Texas, outside Dallas. A good student, Wade, along with five of his seven brothers, entered the legal profession. Shortly after graduating from the University of Texas, in 1939, Wade joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation, then headed by the towering figure of J. Edgar Hoover. Wade's assignment as Special Agent was to investigate espionage cases along the East Coast of the United States and in South America. During World War II, Wade served in the U.S. Navy, taking part in the invasions of the Philippines and Okinawa.

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Career

JFK assassination

He was first elected Rockwall County Attorney. In 1947, Wade joined the Dallas County District Attorney's Office. He won election to the top job only four years later, a position he would hold for thirty-six years straight, from 1951 until his voluntary retirement in 1987. In the early afternoon hours of November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in downtown Dallas, just blocks from Wade's headquarters in the Dallas County Courthouse. Wade recounted that Cliff Carter, a member of newly sworn-in President Lyndon B. Johnson's staff, telephoned him three times that night.[2]

Wade conducting a press conference, 25 November 1963

Wade lost the opportunity to try Lee Harvey Oswald for Kennedy's murder when Dallas nightclub operator Jack Ruby shot the suspect just two days later, but became nationally recognized for prosecuting Ruby himself for Oswald's murder. In that celebrated trial, Wade went head-to-head against the famed San Francisco attorney Melvin Belli (See Ruby v. Texas.)

Roe v. Wade

Wade, as Dallas County District Attorney, was the named defendant when attorneys Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee mounted a 1970 constitutional challenge to the Texas criminal statutes prohibiting doctors from performing abortions with the exception to save the life of the mother. Norma McCorvey ("Jane Roe"), a single woman who has since recanted the claim that her pregnancy was the result of rape, was signed up as the representative plaintiff. The challenge sought a declaratory judgment that the Texas criminal abortion statutes were unconstitutional on their face, and an injunction restraining the defendant from enforcing the statutes. The lower court refused to grant Roe's desired injunction, but declared the criminal abortion statutes were void. Consequently, both side cross-appealed. The case worked its way through the appellate process, culminating in the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which made abortion legal in the United States. Until that decision, Wade had never lost a case.

Later life

Despite the loss of the Roe case — and the unpopularity of the results with many conservative Texas voters — Wade himself was not blamed, and his political career did not suffer. He continued to serve in office for an additional fourteen years, and afterwards remained a fixture around the new Crowley Courts Building, where members of the Dallas Bar called him "the Chief". In 1995, the Henry Wade Juvenile Justice Center was named in his honor, and in 2000, shortly before his death from Parkinson's disease, Texas Lawyer magazine named him as one of the 102 most influential lawyers of the twentieth century.

Legacy

Wade once again gained national attention in 1988 with the release of Errol Morris’s documentary film The Thin Blue Line. The documentary is tells the biography of Randall Dale Adams. Adams was convicted in 1977 and sentenced to death for the murder of Robert Wood, a Dallas police officer. The execution was scheduled for May 8, 1979 but U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. ordered a stay only three days before the scheduled date. Instead of conducting a new trial, Governor Bill Clements commuted Adams’s sentence to life in prison. Adams was exonerated in 1988 after serving 12 years in prison. Similar cases of exonerated men have recently arisen, putting the legality of Wade's practices in question.

As of July 2008, 15 people convicted during Wade's term as Dallas District Attorney have been exonerated of the crimes for which they were accused in light of new DNA evidence. Because of the culture of the department to "convict at all costs," it is suspected that more innocent people have been falsely imprisoned or even executed.[3] Project Innocence Texas currently has more than 250 cases under examination.

A recent report by John Council of Texas Lawyer, however, analyzed the overturned convictions on a case-by-case basis and found that the wrongful convictions were generally caused by unfortunate coincidences and victim mistakes in identifying their attackers, especially because of the impossibility of DNA evidence at the time of trial.[4] The high number of overturned cases seems to be largely a result of Wade's unusual policy of maintaining all evidence even after a trial had been completed, as well as the emphasis that the issue has been given in the Dallas area, especially under the direction of current DA Craig Watkins. In addition, the prosecutors interviewed for the report denied misdeeds or wrong-doing on both individual and departmental levels, and also accused pundits of imagining the "convict at all costs" culture for their own purposes.

References

  1. ^ Graczyk, Michael (2008-07-29). "After Dallas DA's death, 19 convictions are undone". http://www.newsobserver.com/2188/story/1158104.html. Retrieved 2008-08-10.  
  2. ^ Warren Commission (1964). Hearings Before the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy. vol. 5. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. pp. 218–219. OCLC 475244. http://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/jfk/wc/wcvols/wh5/html/WC_Vol5_0114b.htm.  
  3. ^ James Woodard; Eugene Henton; James Waller; Greg Wallis; James Giles; Billy Smith. Interview with James Woodard. DNA Helps Free Inmate After 27 Years (Video/Transcript). 60 Minutes. CBS Dallas, Texas. 4 May 2008. Retrieved on 2008-05-11.
  4. ^ http://www.law.com/jsp/tx/PubArticleTX.jsp?hubtype=TxCaseAlert&id=1202421991854

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