EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Wrongfully Imprisoned Man Released After 18 Years Based on Innocence Project/Conviction Integrity Unity Collaboration

According to an article in the Dallas Morning News,

A man who spent the last 18 years in a Texas prison will walk away a free man today, after a Tarrant County judge acknowledged this morning that he shouldn’t have been convicted of killing a Bedford woman.

“I feel blessed; thank you,” John Nolley, now 42, told reporters waiting outside Judge Louis Sturns’ courtroom before hugging his mother for the first time since he was convicted of murder in May 1998.

This result was a result of a collaboration among the Tarrant County's Conviction Integrity Unit, the Innocence Project and Fort Worth attorney Reagan Wynn.

The collaboration netted new evidence using new forensic technology revealing that Nolley was not the source of a bloody palm print found on a piece of paper recovered on the victim’s body. The CIU also discovered and turned over numerous pieces of previously undisclosed evidence significantly discrediting the testimony of two informants (both of whom were facing criminal charges during the original murder investigation) who had claimed to have critical evidence supporting the state’s case at trial.  The case is the first conviction that the newly formed Conviction Integrity Unit has recommended be reversed.

Importantly, it appears as if this case will also lead to systematic changes regarding how Tarrant County handles jailhouse informants.

In Nolley's case,

A review of the prosecutor’s files...revealed critical new information that directly contradicted testimony given by O’Brien and Vandergriff.  With respect to O’Brien, a jailhouse informant, the CIU located numerous documents contained in other files in the District Attorney’s office revealing that O’Brien had been a State informant in numerous other cases, and lied to the jury when he claimed that he had never “snitched” on anyone but Nolley, nor had he even “offered to” do so.  The CIU also discovered that Vandergriff gave starkly contradictory testimony before the grand jury about the inculpatory statement that Nolley allegedly made (telling the grand jury that Nolley had never indicated he had “cut” or stabbed anyone, while claiming he had admitted to doing so at trial).

The Innocence Project's piece on Nolley's case indicates that

The Tim Cole Innocence Commission is scheduled [to] meet later this year to address the issue of jailhouse informant testimony and its role in causing wrongful convictions.  The Innocence Project has urged the Commission to consider, among other things, how prosecutors’ offices can develop systems to make sure that exculpatory information which effects the credibility of a jailhouse informant (called “impeachment” information) is shared among prosecutors in an office and is turned over to the defense in a timely fashion.  In Nolley’s case, the undisclosed information was not contained in the DA’s trial file and the state has indicated that it does not believe that the prosecutors in the Nolley case knew about it at the time.  Under Texas law, however, the state is obligated to turn over any such information known to any prosecutor or other state official.

It appears that Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Sharen Wilson has indeed considered the above. According to Wilson,

"To prevent a reoccurrence of this issue, we are creating a detailed new policy on the use of jailhouse informants."



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How about publicly naming the Prosecutor who withheld Brady Material? How about criminal charges against the Prosecutors that withheld Brady Material?

Posted by: zoe | May 18, 2016 2:14:46 PM

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