ARLINGTON - Something kept gnawing at Natalie Ellis about a Dallas County case that eventually led to the exoneration of two men who were wrongly convicted in 1997.
Claude Simmons and Christopher Scott are happy she picked up the file.
Dallas County District Attorney and Dallas Police Department officials announced Wednesday that two other men had been arrested in the 1997 murder of Alfonso Aguilar. The arrests clear the way for the anticipated exonerations of Simmons and Scott.
"I was the third student to pick up their file," said Ellis, who volunteers for the UT Arlington Innocence Network. She is a junior in the criminology and criminal jurisprudence program, and plans to attend Texas Wesleyan Law School. "Everyone told me to forget it because there was no DNA evidence. But there were so many elements in the file that interested me. I had a feeling about the case."
John Stickels, adviser for the Innocence Network and assistant professor in criminology and criminal jurisprudence, said Ellis has logged a lot of hours on the case.
"It's the first double exoneration of capital murder that I know of and the first exclusively for UT Arlington students," Stickels said. "Natalie worked tirelessly with the Dallas County DA's office. The Conviction Integrity Unit did an outstanding job investigating these cases. They've always sought the truth in these cases."
Officials said Wednesday that Don Michael Anderson has been arrested and charged with capital murder. They also announced that Alonzo Hardy had been identified through the joint investigation of the Dallas County District Attorney and Dallas Police Department.
The reinvestigation includes an extensive confession by Hardy, detailing his and Anderson's role in the offense, a Dallas County District Attorney's news release said. His detailed statement exonerates Simmons and Scott. Hardy's statement is corroborated by physical evidence collected at the original crime scene as well as by other witnesses. Hardy has also passed a polygraph.
Simmons and Scott both have consistently maintained complete innocence, Ellis said. She said they both have passed polygraphs as to their complete lack of involvement. She also is thankful for the opportunity to work on such a case as an undergraduate student.
"This university, John Stickels and the Innocence Network program offer students a chance to work on real-live cases," Ellis said. "You can't get that opportunity anywhere else."
Stickels also praised the students and instructors at the Texas Center for Actual Innocence at the University of Texas at Austin for their part in the exonerations of Simmons and Scott.
The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.