The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Innocent man remains behind bars

Kelvin Johnson, a friend of Michael Hubbard, whose testimony exonerated Ben Spencer, spoke at the Embrey Human Rights event Thursday. (Rebecca Keay / The Daily Campus)

Centurion Ministries, Dallas Can Do Better, SMU Embrey Human Rights Program and Amnesty International presented “An Evening in Search of Justice: Why is an Innocent Man Still Locked Up? The Ben Spencer Story” Thursday night.

Rick Halperin, director of the Embrey Human Rights Program, opened asking the audience what the “individual and collective response [should be] as we learn of such an abomination as a wrongful conviction such as Ben Spencer’s?”

Spencer, incarcerated for the murder of Dallas businessman Jeffrey Young, has been in prison since 1987, despite eventual proof that he had no connection to Young’s death.

Based on a witness statement, a man named Michael Hubbard confessed to killing Young, yet Spencer remains serving time.

The evening drew a mixed audience-some interested in learning the history of Spencer’s case and others looking for answers, to what they believed to be wrongful imprisonment and injustice.

When asked what brought her to the event, Lisa Burgin, mother of former SMU Embrey Human Rights graduate student, said, “I have always had an interest for these sorts of injustices. It makes me sad, angry and I try to teach my son and daughter about them every day that I can.”

On March 28, 2008, the Dallas Morning News published an article regarding the Spencer case and Dallas judge Rick Magnis who ordered for a new trial.

In that article, SMU law professor Fred Moss said that Dallas County’s 15 DNA exonerations, more than any other county in the nation at the time, could have been be a factor in the judge’s decision, although no biological evidence was provided.

Cheryl Wattley, Spencer’s attorney, reaffirmed this statement and told the audience, “Dallas County is currently the number one county for freeing people that have been wrongfully convicted.”

After the retrial in 2008, the judge found Spencer innocent, but the court of criminal appeals rejected the ruling three years later. Due to the Anti-Terrorist Effective Death Penalty Act, Spencer’s case was never brought to the federal court.

Kelvin Johnson, a close friend of Michael Hubbard, reflected on his efforts to bring Spencer to freedom.

Johnson used to participate in robberies with Hubbard, but once he knew his friend was responsible for the murder of a human being he came forward to testify.

“There is a man that is sitting in prison for something he didn’t do and I had the information to help him out,” Johnson said.

To end the presentation, founder of Centurion Ministries, Jim McCloskey said, “I’ve never encountered a case such as Ben’s, whereby we have clearly dismantled and shredded every piece of the state’s case. Not only have we clearly established Ben’s innocence, but we have provided clear and convincing evidence of another man’s guilt, but Ben remains in prison and is approaching his 27th year this March.” 

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