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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Texas Man Becomes 130th Exonerated Person to Leave Death Row

The Death Penalty Information Center has added Michael Blair as the 130th person on their list of people exonerated to leave death row. He remains in prison on other charges, but he has been found innocent of the murder charge that sent him to death row.

The AP reported yesterday:

DALLAS — A North Texas court dismissed the case against the man known as "Ashley's Killer" two months after his convictions were tossed out because DNA evidence cleared him of the 1993 child slaying.

Michael Blair was convicted and sentenced to death for the molesting and strangling of 7-year-old Ashley Estell in suburban Dallas. Her body was found in a remote area of Collin County on Sept. 5, 1993, a day after she disappeared from a Plano park where her brother was playing soccer.

But recent DNA testing excluded him and in June his conviction was set aside by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The DNA evidence shows that another man, now deceased, is a plausible suspect in the girl's death, according to the Collin County District Attorney's office.

"It has been determined that this case should be dismissed in the interest of justice so that the offense charged in the indictment can be further investigated," according to a dismissal motion filed last month by prosecutors. A judge granted the dismissal motion Aug. 26.

The Dallas Morning News reported the dismissal in its Wednesday editions.

The Collin County DA's office and Plano police said they are reinvestigating the case.

Despite the ruling, Blair will remain in prison. While behind bars, he confessed and eventually pleaded guilty to sexual assaults of other children in the early 1990s. He was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences and a fourth to be served concurrently.

The girl's death prompted state lawmakers to pass tough sexual-predator measures called "Ashley's Laws" requiring longer prison terms and public registration for sex offenders.

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