As I begin a third year blogging for The Huffington Post, a bouquet to readers who have posted comments below my ramblings. Some of you have agreed with my views about the criminal justice system, while others seem to think I am certifiably nuts. Either way, it has been a privilege to exchange ideas with virtually everyone who posts.
But the most gratifying comments have come from readers who fight for justice in distinctive ways. There is "The Skeptical Juror," a retired aerospace engineer who has launched campaigns to save the lives of innocents on death row. And there is "tharksketler," who went ballistic about one of my early articles, but later volunteered to help the family of a wrongfully convicted youth.
"Free Jamie Snow," a regular commenter, has adopted a noble cause, and "Sheila Berry," one of the few readers I know personally, has long been a voice for the powerless. "County Leaks" has been both a thoughtful commenter and an invaluable source of information about wrongdoing by the system.
Then there is "The Accountant," a Texan waging a lonely battle to right a wrong.
The Accountant and I became acquainted on Oct. 4, 2011, when I wrote about the decade-long fight by a Texas death row inmate to get DNA testing. "The way the system works here in Texas," The Accountant commented, "it takes years to gain very little ground. If somebody is innocent, they get caught in a system that does not budge."
It was clear after several posts that The Accountant had personally butted heads with the system. When I later asked "him" what might have happened, I was in for a couple of surprises. First, sexist that I must be, I learned that The Accountant was a woman. Second, she claimed to have been wrongfully convicted of a white collar crime in Dallas County and had spent just shy of three years in a Texas prison.
She revealed more and more about herself in prolific comments over the next 18 months. Finally, curiosity got the better of me. Who was The Accountant? With gentle prodding, and her lawyer's approval, she agreed to let me tell her story.
Meet Audrey White.
White, 58, lives in a Dallas suburb with her husband and two sons, pre-teens when she was arrested for grand theft in 2004. A wealthy real estate developer alleged that White had bilked him out of more than $3 million by signing his name to checks for a non-profit school that White had founded for autistic kids. Although White's lawyer introduced evidence that she was a financial consultant for the mogul and was authorized to sign the checks, a jury found her guilty. A judge sentenced White to eight years, and the school was shuttered.
Paroled in 2010, White returned to a family in crisis. Her husband had a number of medical problems, her older special-needs son had regressed significantly and her younger son had developed severe mood swings. "The hardest part of prison life was the guilt and powerlessness I felt over leaving them behind," she told me.
Besides reconnecting with her family, White tried blogging for a Web site she created. But a prosecutor threatened to revoke her parole, she said, so she took down the site. White eventually turned to HuffPost as a safe forum to vent about the justice system and family strife. Looking for a pen name that described her profession and could double as the title of a book by John Grisham, her favorite author, The Accountant was born.
But commenting on blogs will not pay the bills, and White began looking for work. Good luck finding it when you are a convicted felon. Ironically, however, White's prose about family care-giving caught the eye of the owner of a health care company with 125 employees. A part-time job followed, and soon she was trusted to manage a dizzying array of personnel matters. White has been reborn as The Administrator.
What does the future hold for Audrey White? With her talents, the sky would be the limit -- if it weren't for that stint in a Texas prison. So, White asked me to review her case to see if anything could be done. "I am innocent," she declared. "I was crushed when I was scapegoated. I was shocked to find out how our justice system works. Those with the most resources buy a win."
After scouring legal documents and doing some digging, I concluded there is merit to her claim. It was a "he said, she said" case from the start. The real estate developer, a Texas Republican with ties to George W. Bush, was going through a messy divorce and had a motive to conceal directing large sums of money to the school. When White took the stand, the judge barred her from testifying about evidence that could well have created reasonable doubt.
Her appeals exhausted, however, finding help is no easy matter. But a fresh breeze has blown through Dallas' criminal justice system in recent years. Its source is a young district attorney with an abiding commitment to justice. His name is Craig Watkins, the first D.A. to build a team that looks into old cases to see if guilty verdicts were just. Watkins' Conviction Integrity Unit even works directly with innocence projects to free the wrongfully convicted.
But there is a catch for White. Although she was charged by Watkins' predecessor, win-at-all-costs D.A. Bill Hill, it was Watkins' prosecutors who later tried the case - and got a conviction. Will the reform-minded Watkins be willing to admit a possible mistake on his watch?
Readers, here is where you come in. I have long nagged you to make the justice system more accountable by voting in elections for district attorneys and judges, by writing lawmakers about needed reforms and by volunteering at an innocence project.
Want to make a difference for a fellow reader? You can contact Craig Watkins' Conviction Integrity Unit at the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, Frank Crowley Courts Building, 133 N. Riverfront Blvd., LB 19, Dallas, Texas 75207. Call (214)-653-3600 or use the email form on the Web site: http://www.dallasda.co/webdev/contact-us/
You also can post comments below this article, which will be brought to the D.A.'s attention. Whether or not you believe in Audrey White's innocence, perhaps you will agree that her case deserves another look.
"It is my hope to clear my name," she told me, adding that she wants to get a master's degree in journalism and "become an advocate for justice and prison reform as well as continuing educational opportunities for people with special needs."
In her third act, she would become The Advocate.