Man tied to false conviction in Texas indicted

AP News
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Posted: Oct 21, 2010 5:17 PM
Man tied to false conviction in Texas indicted

A convicted child molester linked to the crime that sent an innocent deaf man to prison in Texas was indicted Thursday in two similar cases involving sexual assaults on children.

A Dallas County grand jury indicted Robert Warterfield, 42, on two unsolved 1989 cases involving Dallas children who were 7 and 9 at the time they were attacked.

In both cases, an unknown man entered the bedrooms of sleeping girls, placed pillowcases over their heads, led them outside and sexually assaulted them, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said. Both girls survived.

Warterfield was in the Dallas County Jail on Thursday on a charge of aggravated sexual assault of a child. Bond was set at $50,000 on one charge and $100,000 on the other, Watkins said. Warterfield's attorney did not immediately return a message left by The Associated Press.

"I've been in contact with (the victims) and they are seeking justice and looking forward to their day in court," Watkins said. "At some point, we hope justice will be served."

The cases shouldn't have taken two decades to crack. Evidence of Warterfield's likely involvement had been sitting untouched and ignored for more than 16 years in Dallas County files but was recently discovered by Watkins' Conviction Integrity Unit, which examines possible innocence cases.

In the late 1980s and early 90s, there were more than a dozen sexual assaults of young girls in the north Dallas area. According to court records, Warterfield pleaded guilty to one of them _ the assault of a 15-year-old girl in 1994.

In his 1994 plea bargain agreement, Warterfield essentially presented a road map of his crimes. Attached to his pleas bargain is a supplement that lists 13 sex assaults. The deal he reached was that if prosecutors charged him in any of those 13 cases, they could not use his guilty plea against him in pursuing convictions.

The attorney who represented Warterfield in 1994 did not immediately respond to a message left by the AP.

Two of the cases listed in the plea agreement are the ones for which Warterfield was indicted Thursday.

Another case listed in the plea bargain was the one that led to the 1993 wrongful conviction of Stephen Brodie, who was exonerated last month after spending 10 years behind bars.

In Brodie's case, a 5-year-old Richardson girl was assaulted by an unknown man who entered her room at night and led her outside to a nearby yard. Brodie was eventually convicted, despite a lack of physical evidence tying him to the crime. Brodie, who has been deaf since childhood and communicates by sign language, was questioned for hours by Richardson police without an interpreter, according to court documents.

A year after Brodie's conviction, Richardson police learned that a fingerprint at the crime scene belonged to Warterfield, who around the same time pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl in 1994. Warterfield also was suspected by Dallas police in the other unsolved sexual assaults and attempted assaults of young girls in the area.

But Richardson police never charged him, believing they had arrested the right man in Brodie, according to court documents.

Watkins' office reopened the Brodie case and supported his release. In doing so, the unit asked the county forensics lab to conduct DNA tests on the other "North Dallas Rapist" cases from two decades ago listed in the plea bargain documents.

The testing confirmed matches between Warterfield and the 1989 cases. Watkins declined to say whether DNA tests are pending on the other cases.

Warterfield still has not been charged in the case that led to Brodie's wrongful conviction. During Brodie's hearing in September, Warterfield took the stand and invoked the Fifth Amendment right to not provide testimony that might incriminate himself.

Brodie's father last week said his son has forgiven Warterfield. The elder Brodie said he felt "anguish and heartache" for Warterfield's family.