A quarter century after he was falsely convicted, 52-year-old George Rodriguez has been awarded $3 million from the City of Houston after a botched crime lab analysis landed him 17 years of jail time for a rape and kidnapping he didn't commit.
“On behalf of the citizens of Houston, I want to apologize to you,” Mayor Annise Parker addressed Rodriguez in a press conference at City Hall and in a statement sent out by the city.
“On behalf of the citizens of Houston, I want to apologize to you. You were an innocent victim of a faulty system and I am sincerely sorry for the injustice you suffered."
“You were an innocent victim of a faulty system and I am sincerely sorry for the injustice you suffered. There is no amount of money that can make up for the years of your life that have been lost to this ordeal.
"But, hopefully, this settlement will somehow help in moving forward with the rest of your life.”
Rodriguez was convicted in 1987 for assaulting a 14-year-old girl based on false conclusions from the Houston Police Department crime lab. With the help of lawyers from the Innocence Project, he was released from prison in 2004. The conviction was communed the following year.
A federal court awarded $5 million to Rodriguez in 2009, but the city quickly appealed and had the settlement tossed in 2011. Though the Innocence Project legal team started the lawsuit with a request for $35 million, Rodriguez has settled with the city for $3 million.
The multi-million-dollar settlement comes in the midst of ongoing tension between city and county approaches to forensic science — a conflict that continues to separate Harris County forensic cases from those examined by the Houston Police Department (HPD).
Parker wants all HPD cases reviewed by the newly-created Houston Forensic Science Local Government Corporation (HFSLGC), a third-party organization free of political or legal interference. County leaders, meanwhile, have committed to their government-run Institute of Forensic Science, which recently opened a new DNA lab in the Texas Medical Center.
“My goal is independence — a crime lab independent of police, prosecutors and political influence."
As the region's population expands and more labs are needed, a joint forensics department could save time and money while ensuring a level of quality and consistency. For now, however, local government entities remain divided on the issue, as Parker clearly indicated in the statement on the Rodriguez settlement.
“My goal is independence — a crime lab independent of police, prosecutors and political influence,” she said. “We are well on our way toward a system that is arm's length from the police officers who make the arrests and from those responsible for prosecuting the accused.”