Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins, who in 2006 became Texas’ first black chief prosecutor, has been named one of the eight Governing Magazine public officials of the year. Watkins is far different from Henry Wade, who held the job from 1951 to 1987. In impoverished, predominantly African-American South Dallas, Wade’s hardball tactics created resentment and distrust. More than 200 of the 267 attorneys Watkins began managing campaigned for his opponent because they didn’t think Watkins had enough trial experience.
At the same time, he believed he had a mandate to rectify past injustices. He obtained $450,000 to create a conviction-integrity unit to reinvestigate old cases. The unit has reviewed more than 180 case files, of which 21 have been flagged for DNA testing or further investigation. So far, a total of 19 Dallas County prisoners have been exonerated or freed. What Watkins has shown is that there’s as much justice in clearing the names of the innocent as there is in putting the guilty behind bars. Says Watkins” “I still walk around the office gently because I know there are a lot of people who still don’t want me here.” But, he says, every time justice is done, we “restore credibility that law enforcement can work for everyone.”