By Steven Monacelli
Richard Miles spent 15 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He was convicted when he was just 19, based on the testimony of one eyewitness, and didn’t even fit the description.
Miles is one of many people in the United States who have faced imprisonment at the hands of a flawed criminal justice system — one that all too often metes out unequal punishment based on the color of one’s skin — only to later be completely exonerated upon a reexamination of the case. But Miles may be the first exoneree who decided to sit down for a conversation with one of the people who was responsible for putting him behind bars.
Over 25 years after he went to jail, Miles met for a public dialogue with Thomas D’Amore, the lead prosecutor in his case. The historic conversation took place at the Dallas Bar Association Luncheon in March and was moderated by Shaun Rabb, a FOX 4 reporter who covered both the 1995 trial when Miles was sentenced to 60 years for murder and also his 2012 exoneration with the aid of Centurion Ministries out of Princeton, New Jersey.
“Did the system fail? Yes, it did. And oftentimes, people say that the system does exactly what it’s created to do,” Miles said at the luncheon, where D’Amore laid out where things went wrong in Miles’ case.
“All the information was allegedly turned over to the DA’s office, and that’s what the jury based their decision on,” D’Amore said during the dialogue. “As it turns out, that was incorrect.”
Two key police reports, one which named a potential shooter, never made it to prosecutors and defense attorneys. At 19 years old, Miles was charged and convicted on the word of just one eyewitness.
“The reality in my case was I did not fit the description of the shooter,” Miles said at the event. “So I should not have ever been picked up. The description of the shooter was 6’2″, 6’4″, real dark complexed.”
Since his exoneration, Miles has dedicated himself to helping former inmates reintegrate back into society through his nonprofit, Miles of Freedom. He’s also been a vocal advocate for criminal justice reform, using his personal story to help change mindsets, improve his community, and reform legislation.
A few weeks after the conversation with D’Amore, Miles caught up with the Dallas Weekly while in Princeton at a retreat organized by Centurion Ministries for exonerees like himself. When asked how the conversation came to happen, Miles said it was all his idea.
“About two years ago, Thomas sent me a friend request on Facebook,” Miles recalled. “My wife said she didn’t want me to accept it, wasn’t sure of his intentions, but I decided to go ahead with it. We didn’t really have any interaction until October 1 of 2021, which is National Wrongful Conviction Day. So I did a post on Facebook where I said I’d like an opportunity to talk to the former prosecutor, and I tagged him.”
Miles got a message in his inbox from D’Amore shortly after making the post. They chatted, talked briefly on the phone, and quickly decided to meet up at Well Grounded Coffee on Garland Road. “He apologized for what happened to me and accepted his responsibility as lead prosecutor,” Miles said. “He said he wanted to build on what we had accomplished, so I asked him why don’t we have an open dialogue about my case?”
Going into the dialogue, Miles says he had no end goal.
“I’m really just glad that we were having this conversation, because never in history has a person that was wrongfully incarcerated sat down and talked with the lead prosecutor,” Miles said. “If we’re talking about criminal justice reform, that’s where it starts.”
Miles’ impact has already been felt across the state. The Richard Miles Act, which was passed in 2021 and is now law in Texas, requires law enforcement to turn over all evidence and information in a case, including evidence that might clear a person charged with a crime. The law is aimed to curb the practice of law enforcement limiting the release of evidence that may disfavor their case. If law enforcement officials sign documents affirming all evidence has been released, only for the evidence to later be uncovered, they may be held legally responsible.
When it comes to moving forward and making further progress on reform, Miles says it is key to focus on three things. “The first is to change mindsets. The second is to change legislation. And the third thing is to change the community through the services that are needed to help keep people out of the criminal justice system. Because at the end of the day, to change things or keep them the way they are, it’s a choice.”