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When Entre Nax Karage was released recently from Dallas’ Lew Sterrett Criminal Justice Center on a personal recognizance bond after serving almost seven years of a life sentence for murder, Duncanville solo John Hendrik breathed a sigh of relief. Karage’s March 4 release from custody was something Hendrik had hoped to see since Karage was sentenced in 1997. And if not for Hendrik’s persistence, Karage likely still would be incarcerated. “Thank goodness for DNA,” says Hendrik, who was Karage’s trial counsel and represents Karage in his current bid for freedom based on DNA evidence that allegedly links another man to the murder victim. Karage’s conviction was “one of my worst moments as a defense attorney,” recalls Hendrik, who served as judge of Dallas County Criminal Court at Law No. 8 from 1981 until 1994, when he went into private practice. “I felt partly responsible,” says Hendrik, who believed in his client’s innocence and was surprised when Karage was convicted. After Hendrik lost at the trial, Karage decided to hire another attorney to handle the direct appeal, which the Texas Supreme Court assigned to the 4th Court of Appeals in San Antonio. In Karage v. State, the 4th Court affirmed Karage’s conviction and sentence in 1999. According to the 4th Court’s opinion, written by Senior Justice Shirley W. Butts, the evidence introduced at Karage’s trial was circumstantial. Justice Catherine Stone and Paul Green joined Butts in the opinion. Butts noted in the opinion that the victim, Nary Na -� Karage’s 14-year-old girlfriend -� had a coat hanger wrapped tightly around her neck when she was found in a creek bed behind the Casa Linda Shopping Center in Dallas. An autopsy revealed Na had died of strangulation and blunt-force injuries, according to the opinion. Also according to the 4th Court’s opinion, Karage’s car, found in the parking lot of a grocery store where Na was last seen on the day she disappeared, had blood on the rear bumper, in the trunk and on the trunk carpet, but a detective testified at Karage’s trial that little blood was found inside the car, which someone had cleaned before the police located it. Butts wrote that Karage had claimed when questioned by police in 1994 that Na took the car while they were at a video store together but that he had not seen her do it. According to the opinion, Karage’s clothes tested positive on a presumptive blood test, although a forensics technologist who testified at Karage’s trial could not say whether the stains were human blood. But the same technologist also testified that Karage’s blood DNA did not match the DNA samples taken from Na’s body, and tests revealed that one hair sample recovered from the body had “negroid” characteristics, while two other samples had Caucasian characteristics, according to the opinion. Based on the hair evidence, the Cambodian-born Karage put forth the hypothesis that a white and/or black person murdered Na, according to the 4th Court’s opinion. “Because there was no evidence of vaginal tears or abrasions, the police concluded that no rape occurred, and that any earlier sexual intercourse had been consensual,” Butts wrote. “Our theory was Karage had murdered the victim because she was sleeping with someone else,” says John Rolater, deputy chief of the appellate section in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, who worked with Hendrik to gain Karage’s release from prison. Witnesses at the trial, including Na’s stepfather, testified that Karage had been jealous of the girl and had hit her in the past, according to the 4th Court’s opinion. Butts wrote that Karage suspected Na had a lover and had stated that “he should kill her and feed her body to the dogs. “ Karage appealed the 4th Court’s decision to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which in a 2001 unpublished opinion refused his petition for discretionary review. Not Giving Up Hendrik says he got another chance with Karage’s case when his former client wrote to him from prison in late 2002 to ask for help in getting the DNA tested again. Previously, Karage had filed pro se motions seeking to have DNA testing on skin particles from under the victim’s nails. But 282nd District Judge Karen Greene, who presided over Karage’s trial, denied those motions because that evidence was not available. Karage had assumed that skin particles are always scraped from underneath a victim’s nails, but in this case it had not been, Greene says. Because he still felt bad about Karage’s conviction, Hendrik says he decided to work pro bono on the DNA motion. In February 2003, Hendrik filed the motion with Judge Greene asking to have the DNA retested and compared to the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a database of Texas offenders convicted of murder, sexual assault and other crimes. At the time of Karage’s trial, no extensive database of criminal offenders existed, Hendrik says. Before he filed the motion seeking retesting, Hendrik says he first talked with Greene and asked her if it would make a difference in the case if it could be shown that the DNA in the sperm found in Na belonged to a sex offender. “I told him sure, if there was a hit, that would be important information,” Greene recalls. “We’re all very interested in making sure that the right people are punished for the right offenses.” Greene ordered the DNA testing on June 24, 2003, Hendrik says. Hendrik says he had the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas retest the sperm DNA and compare it to the CODIS database. The CODIS check turned up a match, he says. In an application for writ of habeas corpus filed in January with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Karage alleges that the sperm DNA matched that of Keith Jordan, a black prison inmate convicted in Dallas’ 203rd District Court in 1997 for the aggravated kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault of another 14-year-old girl in the same area of East Dallas where Na’s body was found in 1994. The trial court had sentenced Jordan to 20 years for the sexual assault and 30 years for kidnapping, with the terms to be served concurrently. “We’re currently investigating Jordan with regard to the offense [Na's murder],” Rolater says. Hendrik says, when questioned by Dallas police detectives, Jordan denied knowledge about Na’s murder. The detectives reported on their interview with Jordan during a March 4 conference with Greene, Hendrik and prosecutors. Robert Udashen, Jordan’s attorney and a partner in Dallas’ Sorrels & Udashen, had not talked with his client before presstime on March 11. “I’m in the process of investigating the new development,” Udashen says. The Court of Criminal Appeals vacated Jordan’s conviction on the sexual assault charge in 2001. The CCA held in Ex Parte Jordan that Jordan was denied effective assistance of counsel after finding that his trial attorney mishandled a plea agreement. And on Feb. 5, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Stickney of the Northern District in Dallas recommended that the kidnapping charge also be vacated after finding that Jordan would not have been charged with kidnapping if the trial attorney had not mishandled the plea agreement. Stickney’s recommendation is pending before U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis of Dallas. “I thought we were on the road to getting him out. Now, we’re on the road to dealing with this whole new issue,” Udashen says. In the writ application, Karage claims that the newly discovered evidence of the DNA test results shows he is actually innocent. If the Court of Criminal Appeals denies the application, Hendrik says he will seek a pardon for Karage. Hendrik would have to submit an application for pardon to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. If the board finds that Karage should be pardoned, it will make a recommendation to Gov. Rick Perry. Hendrik says the DA’s office in Dallas has been “very cooperative” with regard to his client’s case ever since the DNA test results came in. Rolater says the Dallas DA’s office will assist Hendrik in seeking relief for Karage, either through an application for writ of habeas corpus at the Court of Criminal Appeals or a request for a pardon. “It’s our belief he shouldn’t be in prison based on what we’ve been able to find, and we’re going to help Mr. Hendrik try to get him out,” Rolater says. Lori Ordiway, appellate section chief in the DA’s office, is more reserved about the role her office will play in Karage’s case. “We’re going to take it one step at a time,” Ordiway says. “At this point, we have the same goal in mind as the defendant � and that is relief.” Rolater says Hendrik’s efforts to get Karage relief show that the system is working. “He stuck with the case, did what he had to do and didn’t give up,” Rolater says. “It seems to be working out.”

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