Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales has named Matthew Howard the Director of the Conviction Integrity Unit.
Matthew has been with the District Attorney’s Office since 2013. He has worked in the Conviction Integrity Unit since 2015. Matthew has worked on multiple cases recognized by the National Registry of Exonerations. In 2020, Matthew and the CIU learned a confidential informant who had provided information to law enforcement for a search warrant had verifiably lied in another investigation. A prosecutor from the Criminal Trial Division in Bexar County District Attorney’s Office current administration made the CIU aware of the issue, and the CIU discovered the informant worked on the cases of three people. One of them, Rexina Linan-Juarez, had her conviction formally overturned and dismissed. The CIU recommended relief for Linan-Juarez’s co-defendants. That matter is still pending.
“The work of the Conviction Integrity Unit is a crucial part of the check and balance of the criminal justice system. I have seen Matthew’s dedication to this work and his commitment to doing what’s right and fair for all people. While we were sad to lose Alison Dahlberg to the Court of Criminal Appeals, Matthew has demonstrated his knowledge of these issues and leadership skills to continue the hard work of the CIU,” Gonzales said.
Matthew has also conducted internal investigations into forensic issues and intellectual disability in capital murder convictions, most recently the case of Geronimo Gutierrez whose death sentence was reformed to life in prison in November 2020. Matthew was Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 2019. He has been a guest speaker at the Robert O. Dawson Conference on Criminal Appeals and has spoken multiple times on post-conviction forensic motions and writs of habeas corpus.
“It is an incredible honor and privilege to be asked to help the people of Bexar County in addressing post-conviction issues. Our oath as prosecutors requires us to strive to root out manifest injustice at all stages of a criminal proceeding, and we have a duty to ensure that no innocent individual sits in prison for a crime they didn’t commit,” Howard said.
The CIU has also taken a proactive step in identifying dozens of victims of former attorney Mark Benavides and, working with the Public Defender’s Office, has assisted them in seeking expunctions of the cases for which they were found guilty while Benavides represented them. The victims are entitled to other resources, including counseling services. Benavides was convicted in 2018 on charges of human trafficking. Six women who were represented by Benavides testified at his trial that Benavides told them if they did not have sex with him, he would make sure they were sent to prison. Benavides was sentenced to 80 years in prison.
Both the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office are still working to provide assistance to the Benavides’ victims. They may seek help by calling 210-335-0701.
In 2019, the CIU handled 160 post-conviction writs of habeas corpus and approximately 20 requests for informal reviews. In 2020, the CIU handled 185 post-conviction writs of habeas corpus and completed approximately 25 requests for informal case reviews. The CIU has a case review intake form available online for anyone convicted of a crime in Bexar County to have that case examined for evident injustice that requires correction.