A Texas man has been released from prison after spending 20 years behind bars. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the 1998 murder conviction of John Nolley Jr. after it was discovered that a jailhouse informant had lied on the stand.
According to criminal justice initiative the Innocence Project, which was representing Nolley, the courts uncovered “important exculpatory evidence in the State’s possession was never heard by the jury that convicted him in 1998.”
“He praised God,” John Nolley Jr.’s lawyer, Nina Morrison with the Innocence Project, told The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday following his client’s long-awaited release. “He said he looked up at the sky and just took a big breath.”
Despite being convicted of stabbing Bedford resident Sharon McLane to death in 1996, Nolley was finally proved innocent.
“There was no apparent motive, there was no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, there were no eyewitnesses, there was no confession,” Morrison said. “Everyone had agreed that John had not gotten a fair trial.”
The court found that the informant’s “false testimony” grossly undermined confidence in the proceedings that led to Nolley’s conviction.
The Tarrant County district attorney’s office will now decide whether or not to completely dismiss the original indictment. If this decision is taken, Nolley will be eligible for a huge compensation payout. For now, police will continue to investigate the 1996 slaying.
Morrison said that since her client was released on bond following the overturning of his conviction two years ago, he’s gotten married to an old friend from middle school and even had a baby, John Nolley III. During that time, Texas has sought to overhaul the way its criminal justice system deals with informants, passing an “anti-snitch” law in September last year.
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The law, which went into effect in September, requires prosecutors to track their use of informants and provide more information on these relationships to defense attorneys.
The law was modeled after the conviction integrity unit established by the Tarrant County district attorney’s office a few years ago. After hearing about potential miscarriages of justice in Nolley’s case, the unit worked with local police to take another look, launching a investigation into the evidence — or lack thereof — that put Nolley behind bars.
The probe led the county to change its jailhouse informants policy, which laid the groundwork for the new statewide snitch law. Nolley’s was the first case taken up by the conviction integrity unit and the first to yield an overturned conviction.
District Attorney Sharen Wilson argued that the Nolley case was a great example of how, through the studying of individual cases, crucial reform action can be taken in order to improve the criminal justice system as a whole. “The collaborative partnership on this case between our office, the Bedford Police Department and the Innocence Project demonstrates a single-minded commitment to what should be at the heart of every conviction integrity unit: discovering the truth,” she added, according to the Innocent Project.
(H/T: Dallas Morning News)