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Local attorneys have differing opinion about new exoneration report

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AMARILLO - Texas is among the top states for exonerating the wrongfully convicted, but there are differing opinions on what that says about the state justice system.

Since 1989, 114 convicts have been cleared in the state. Among hundreds of thousands of inmates within a 14 year period, everyone can agree that's a small percentage.

"I think it says that we're very conscientious," Randall County District Attorney James Farren said.

"Of course we're the top, we have this addiction to convicting people in this state," Criminal Defense Attorney Jeff Blackburn said.

Blackburn is the founder of the Innocence Project of Texas.

He believes there are thousands of wrongfully convicted inmates in Texas prisons that will never be freed if county district attorneys don't cooperate or efforts like his never get more funding.

"Most DA's are interested in stonewalling the Innocence Project because it makes them look bad," Blackburn said. "Well of course it does!"

Farren disagrees.

He says the Texas Justice System gives more rights to suspected criminals than any other, and it's more likely for someone to win the lottery than to be locked in prison for a crime they did not commit.

"The public needs to keep in mind that we talk about the Innocence Project, their definition of innocence is very different than yours and mine. There's a difference between not guilty and innocent," Farren said.

According to the 2012 report by the National Registry of Exonerations, 53 of the 114 exonerations in Texas were cleared with the cooperation of police and prosecutors.

The report insinuates Texas is leading a shift in justice systems across the nation. Citing Dallas as the first county to establish an innocence intergrity unit.

"No human system is going to be perfect," Farren said. "But what's good about this information is that when we do find a human an error, we do everything in our power to correct it."

But Blackburn says Dallas is a rare exception in this state, and to insinuate Texas is making a great change is like giving a gold metal to a competitor unworthy of an honorable mention.

"I'm doing this work. I can tell you that to say the police and prosecutors are wildly enthusiastic about working with the Innocence Project to get people out in Texas is nonsense," Blackburn said.

Blackburn says the biggest problem with the Texas justice system is the lack of committed court-appointed defense attorneys, another point Farren disagrees on.

But regardless of how effective or broken the system is, this report proves...

"We are making progressive in this state," Blackburn said.

Something neither Blackburn or Farren can deny.

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