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Witness for the Prosecution

When Craig Watkins takes over this month as Dallas County district attorney, he’ll make history, twice: he’s the first African-American to hold such a position in either the county or the state (as best as can be determined).
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photography by Dan Sellers

When Craig Watkins takes over this month as Dallas County district attorney, he’ll make history, twice: he’s the first African-American to hold such a position in either the county or the state (as best as can be determined). He’ll also be first to take heat from entrenched foes who were dumbfounded he beat insider favorite Toby Shook. But powerful allies in the legal community—including transition mentors like State Sen. Royce West, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, former U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins, and former Mayor Ron Kirk—think the best man got the job.

Watkins, a Democrat who came within 2 percent of beating Republican DA Bill Hill in 2002, is used to being underestimated. He is also used to criticism. About his business debts, he says he’s paying them off. About his prosecutorial inexperience, he says it proves he’s not tied to “a system that failed.” He plans major changes aimed at the root causes of crime. Monthly meetings with U.S. Attorney Richard Roper are in the works. “Yeah, we’re supposed to get the bad guys off the streets,” Watkins says. “But we’re also supposed to improve the quality of life at the same time for the citizens. So my role is bigger than just a prosecutor.”

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