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Heath new face in DA’s office

November 4, 2010 • Local News

Roger Heath, assistant district attorney, for the 5th Judicial District is one of several people hired by the district attorney’s office this year. While newly hired, he’s not exactly inexperienced.

Heath completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at Arlington. During his time there, he worked on the Innocence Project in north Texas.

The Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to using DNA testing to exonerate wrongfully-convicted people. “Many had been in jail for a long time,” said Heath.

He estimated that most had been in jail between 15 Roger Heath, assistant district attorney, for the 5th Judicial District is one of several people hired by the district attorney’s office this year. While newly hired, he’s not exactly inexperienced.

Heath completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at Arlington. During his time there, he worked on the Innocence Project in north Texas. The Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to using DNA testing to exonerate wrongfully-convicted people.

“Many had been in jail for a long time,” said Heath. He estimated that most had been in jail between 15 and 20 years, usually on capital murder charges.

The group worked in cooperation with the Dallas County Conviction Integrity Unit established by District Attorney Craig Watkins in July 2007 to oversee the post-conviction review of more than 400 DNA cases. Heath completed his graduate work and obtained his law degree at University of New Mexico in 2008.

“I graduated in December 2008. In February, I took the BAR exam, which means that I got licensed in April.” He did a brief stint in private practice. “That’s the great thing about being a lawyer,” Heath quipped, “You’re never unemployed. You’re in private practice.” He worked as a prosecutor for the 2nd Judicial District and then applied for the Roswell post. Originally from Carlsbad, when Heath accepted the job in Roswell, he was returning to his roots.

“My boss accused me of wanting to return to my Norman Rockwell childhood.” He is pleased with the move. “I like small towns. I like the people. I like the values. This is the type of place you want your children to grow up in.”

His road to prosecutor has been a bit convoluted. “My grandfather was a pastor. He had a lot of grandchildren, none whom became pastors, so as the youngest, I was destined to be a pastor. I spent 11 years as a pastor before I became an attorney,” Heath said, but he knew he wanted to be an attorney since high school.

Described by District Attorney Janetta Hicks as a man who can spin a good yarn. Heath did not disappoint when he chronicled his early career as an advocate.

“I won my first case, a mock trial in high school.” His victory had unforeseen consequences, said Heath. “A boy in the playground threw a girl’s purse, breaking some of its contents. Someone suggested we have a trial, since we’d just had a mock trial the day before, and the defendant chose me as his lawyer since I had won.

The teachers acted as the jury. … Unfortunately, the judge was the young lady who was the prosecutor that I had defeated the day before. We crashed and burned on that one. He went down in flames. He lost his playground privileges for a week.” Heath spent his internship in a public defenders’ office.

“It would seem natural that I’d go into defense. I think coming from a background of innocence work, it felt great to right a wrong, but what I found, for a large part, the system works.” From pastor, public defender to prosecutor, “It’s the work that has purpose,” said Heath.

“The prosecutor’s job is to seek justice. We have to be just as willing to turn away from a case as to proceed.” His impressions of Roswell are favorable. “One thing I’ve been impressed with is the diligence and cooperation of the Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office here. I can pick up the phone any time and get a quick return on any case. They are very professional,” Heath said.

j.palmer@roswell-record.com

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