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Experts call for reform of justice system

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A panel of legal experts and two exonerated men discussed criminal justice failings Thursday.

John Thompson spent 18 years behind bars in Louisiana. Fourteen of those years were spent on death row.

"In 1985, the district attorney tried to make me out a monster," Thompson said. "If you're walking into a door where they already assume you're guilty, then everybody has that impression, even the witnesses and the jurors. They will that upon everyone."

Michael Morton spent 24 years in a Texas prison for the murder of his wife.

"What we want to do is wake people up and make them more aware," Morton said. "This happens to me, this happens to you, this can happen to anybody and I am a perfect example of that."

Both Thompson and Morton are working to change a prosecutor’s culture that they believe seeks conviction rather than justice.

Research released by the Innocence Project Thursday showed 91 prosecutorial errors were found in Texas over a four-year span. Most of the errors were minor. Others were more harmful, but only one prosecutor was disciplined.

Attorney Barry McNeil spent 7,500 hours helping clear two Mexican nationals wrongly convicted of capital murder in West Texas. He said some prosecutors cross ethical and legal lines by hiding evidence that would help defendants.

"What you find at trial is material you should have gotten as a defense lawyer, but you don't have, and thus, you're not adequately able to represent your client in that setting," he said.

Everyone participating in Thursday’s forum understands changing a system that continues to send innocent people to prison is an uphill battle.

"I don't think this is an epidemic of prosecutorial misconduct, but just because of what we see on such a regular basis, there’s room for improvement,” Morton said.

The Innocence Project reports racial and poverty issues can contribute to wrongful convictions.

Those with the Prosecutorial Oversight tour are hoping to address issues with the Texas legislative session in 2013. Learn more about them by clicking here.

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