Summary Courtesy of The National Registry of Exonerations
by Maurice Possley
On July 18, 1991, 24-year-old Timmy Duke was indicted by a Dallas County, Texas grand jury on charges of burglarizing a home in Irving, Texas three weeks earlier on June 26.
The owner of the home that was broken into told police that she came home at 1:30 p.m., and saw a strange car in her driveway that drove off as she approached. She noted the license plate and called police.
Police traced the license plate to Duke’s brother, who reported that Timmy Duke was driving the car.
At the time he was indicted for the burglary, Duke was already in custody on a charge of stealing a car in Lewisville, Texas—20 miles away from Irving—on the same day and at the same time of the burglary. Lewisville authorities reported that Duke was arrested for the car theft at 2 p.m. on that day.
When Duke was charged with the burglary, he told his defense lawyer that he did not commit the burglary because he was already in custody on the car theft charge.
In October 1991, Duke went to trial in Denton County Criminal District Court on the car theft charge. The prosecution’s chief witness was Jesse Harris, the owner of Jesse’s Auto Sales, who testified that Duke drove a Renault off the lot at about noon on June 26, 1991.
Harris said that he began looking for the car. At about 1:30 p.m., he spotted Duke driving it. Harris said he followed the car into a trailer park and kept it under surveillance until police arrived and arrested Duke. The arrest report said Duke was taken into custody at 2 p.m.
On October 24, 1991, a jury convicted Duke of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison.
On May 1, 1992, Duke pled guilty in Dallas County Criminal District Court to the burglary charge and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The sentence was to be served concurrently with the 80-year term imposed in Denton County.
In November 2010, Duke, acting without a lawyer, filed a state law petition for a writ of habeas corpus. He claimed that his defense lawyer in the burglary case had ignored his claim that he was already in custody in Denton County when the woman reported the burglary. Duke claimed that the license plate that was used to link him to the crime had been stolen prior to the burglary. He said he pled guilty because his defense lawyer told him he would get a longer sentence if he went to trial and was convicted and if he pled guilty, his sentence would be concurrent with the sentence in the car theft case.
The Dallas County District Attorney’s office opposed the writ without doing any investigation. Duke’s defense lawyer denied that he failed to investigate Duke’s assertion of innocence. The trial court recommended that the writ be denied, and in April 2011, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied the writ.
Duke subsequently filed three more habeas petitions, all of which were denied in 2012, 2013, and 2016.
In 2017, Duke contacted the Dallas County conviction integrity unit and the Innocence Project of Texas requesting help on his case. A joint reinvestigation showed that the owner of the car lot said he had Duke under surveillance in the Renault at the same time that the burglary occurred.
In January 2018, Duke’s attorney, Bruce Anton, and Cynthia Garza, the head of the Dallas County conviction integrity unit, jointly filed findings that Duke’s defense attorney in the burglary case had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to obtain the Lewisville police reports relating to the car theft.
The trial court recommended that the writ be granted, and on January 23, 2018, Duke was released from prison. He was granted parole on the unauthorized use of a motor vehicle conviction and was granted bond on the burglary charge.
The lawyers asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to grant the writ, noting, “Had the District Attorney’s Office Appellate Section conducted the investigation in 2010 that the Conviction Integrity Unit…conducted in 2017, they would have learned that there existed Lewisville police reports that proved the allegations made by Duke in his 2010 application” for a habeas writ.
On June 27, 2018, the Court of Criminal Appeals granted the writ and vacated Duke’s burglary conviction. On July 30, 2018, the prosecution dismissed the charge.
Duke was ineligible for compensation for his wrongful burglary conviction because the time he spent in prison was for the unauthorized motor vehicle theft conviction.