For more than two decades, Troy Mansfield was a registered sex offender for a crime he did not commit.
And all that time, the prosecutors’ case file notes in the Williamson County district attorney’s office raised doubts about his guilt and pointed to evidence that could exonerate him.
After he and his attorney discovered that evidence a few years ago, Mansfield got his 1992 child molestation conviction overturned in 2016. This week he filed a lawsuit against Williamson County alleging that then-District Attorney Ken Anderson and his staff failed to turn over key evidence in the case.
“Instead of acknowledging that the evidence showed I was innocent, the prosecutors hid it from me and threatened me with life in prison,” Mansfield told the Statesman on Tuesday. “I owe it to my family to hold accountable the people who did this to us and who knows how many others.”
The outlines of his case bear striking resemblance to the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton in 1987. Anderson also failed to disclose evidence in that case that would have helped the defense, resulting in Morton being convicted and spending 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife. He was exonerated in 2011 after DNA evidence pointed to another man as the killer.
Mansfield’s lawsuit seeks an undisclosed amount in damages.
As a registered sex offender, the lawsuit says, Mansfield “faced unspeakable horrors, from being shamed, threatened and humiliated, to being run out of towns, communities and churches, to not being able to participate in his two children’s lives fully, to being deported at gunpoint from Mexico because he is a registered sex offender.”
The district attorney’s office had no comment on the lawsuit Tuesday. But court filings show that the office in 2015 acknowledged that prosecutors in 1992 had failed to turn over evidence that could have cleared Mansfield, violating his right to due process.
The lawsuit says Anderson, First Assistant DA Paul Womack and at least two other assistant DAs, Richard Branson and Michael Jergens, purposefully withheld “concrete evidence proving that Mansfield was innocent of the crime for which the Williamson County District Attorney’s Office was prosecuting him.”
Mansfield had been accused of molesting a 4-year-old girl. The only evidence in the case was the child’s word.
Facing the possibility of life in prison if convicted, Mansfield took a plea deal on a lesser charge of indecency with a child and received a 120-day jail sentence plus 10 years of probation.
But in 2013, after Morton’s exoneration put a spotlight on the practices of the Williamson district attorney’s office, Mansfield contacted attorney Kristin Etter and asked for help to clear his name. Etter requested copies of prosecutors’ files on the case.
The lawsuit said those files showed that the child “provided inconsistent stories and ultimately recanted her earlier accusation” — evidence that was not shared with Mansfield and his attorney before he took the plea deal.
Handwritten notes in the case jacket suggested that prosecutors had serious reservations about Mansfield’s guilt due to inconsistencies in the child’s story, the lawsuit says. The notes also detail the child’s suggestion that it might have been another child, not Mansfield, who assaulted her.
Etter’s investigation also found that prosecutors lied to Mansfield’s attorney at the time, claiming they had video testimony of the child describing in detail what Mansfield did to her and a forensic examination of the child that corroborated her story.
The lawsuit says prosecutors had no evidence to support the claims and probably used deceptive tactics to induce a guilty plea from Mansfield.
After reviewing the new evidence, Senior Judge Doug Shaver in 2016 set aside Mansfield’s guilty plea, finding that his rights had been violated.
The district attorney’s office used to have a closed file policy that relied on prosecutors to hand over any evidence that might help the defense, as they are required by law to do. Williamson County ended the closed file policy in 2013, and now defense attorneys can review all of the evidence in their clients’ case files.
“The reason closed file policies are so dangerous is that they enable prosecutors to hide evidence of potential innocence from people accused of crimes and their attorneys, which is exactly what happened to Mr. Mansfield,” said Jeff Edwards, one of the attorneys now representing Mansfield. “Instead of deterring fraud and dishonesty, they reward it. They were just as wrong in 1992 as they are today.”