July 25, 2014

MAN EXONERATED BY DNA — AND HE DIDN’T EVEN REQUEST IT.

Michael Phillips had long ago given up trying to clear his name. At 57, he was a registered sex offender, living in a nursing home, wheelchair-bound from severe sickle cell anemia.

Then in May, two police officers delivered news that Phillips says only God could have ordained: Dallas County, Texas, prosecutors had proved through DNA testing that he had spent 12 years in prison for a rape he hadn’t committed.

Hundreds of people have been exonerated through DNA testing. But on Friday, Phillips will become the first exonerated by DNA through systematic testing by a prosecutor’s office even though he hadn’t requested the testing, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law.

“I’m in awe,” Phillips of Dallas told USA TODAY. “At first, I thought I was like, kind of in another time zone or a twilight zone.”

As the news sank in, he says, the Holy Spirit confirmed to him that it was all part of his life’s plan.

The exoneration comes thanks to the Dallas County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which is testing DNA evidence on decades-old cases even when convicted defendants aren’t proclaiming their innocence.

It’s great that they’re doing this. It’s terrible that a man spent 12 years in prison, and was forced to register as a sex offender, for a crime that he didn’t commit. Let’s not forget about that part.