Q: Craig Watkins credits you, as his first assistant district attorney, with giving him the confidence to set up a unit to review claims of innocence. Why were you so sure it was needed?
A: I’ve seen a lot as a prosecutor. I’ve handled the harder cases. You watch the way other prosecutors do their business, and there are people who you admire and there are people who you wonder about their ethics. When I was working in Tarrant County, I’d hear what lawyers would say about Dallas, and you got the impression that there wasn’t firm supervision and mentoring of people to teach them how to do the right thing. I got over here in 2007, and one of the first things I saw was how many people wanted DNA testing and how hard we fought them. We made good legal arguments, but we weren’t asking, “What about the truth?”
Q: Besides the well-publicized exonerations, have there been any less-obvious consequences to having a Conviction Integrity Unit?
A: The public gets what we’re doing. When jurors come to this courthouse, they know we’re all about the truth. When we tell them someone’s guilty, they trust us more. Our burden of proof is probably lower because we are the ones who are cleaning up the mess. We have to be extra careful because we have a lot of credibility with
Dallas County juries.
Q: You’ve called yourself a Kojak Democrat. What do you mean by that?
A: I believe in law and order. There are some people who need to be clobbered, and I have no qualms about doing the clobbering. At the other end, there are good people who have done something really stupid, and you have to have a system set up that can divert them. You don’t have to give them a criminal record and stigmatize them for the rest of their lives.
Q: You ran twice against the late Tim Curry, the longtime Tarrant County DA, and almost beat him as a Democrat running in a Republican county. How fun was that?
A: I like mixing it up. I’ve always had a sharp tongue. I’d say, “More people have sighted Elvis than have seen my opponent in a courtroom.” But you can’t move that mountain. They both were pretty much the same effort with the same result. Close but no cigar.
Q: Did you consider switching parties to win?
A: A judge who I know in Fort Worth switched and told me, “I’m still the same person.” I said, “No, you’re not. I drove by your house the other day, and you had that damn Phil Gramm sign in your yard.” I couldn’t do that, so that’s why I’m not elected.
Q: What else needed fixing in Dallas County that we don’t know much about?
A: This office was indicting people while they were still at large and sticking those cases in a drawer. There were thousands of them
all over the office—murderers, child molesters. Every seven years, we’d dismiss them all. Now there has to be an arrest. That person is either going to be released on bond or sit in jail, and there’s going to be an outcome.
Q: What was the point of the indictments before?
A: Good relations with the police. We were saying, “Anything you bring to me, I’ll indict,” even if we have no idea where this guy is.
Q: You clearly want the U.S. Attorney position. Is it difficult waiting for a decision?
A: I don’t have time to dwell on it, but when I do, I think, “Hurry up. Come on. Let me know something!”