A Tennessee man was wrongfully convicted in connection to a 1998 Nashville slaying, and has been released from prison, authorities said this week.
Joseph Webster, 41, was let go Tuesday from the Downtown Detention Center in Nashville, nearly 15 years into a life sentence he received in 2006 for the first-degree murder of Leroy Owens more than two decades ago, the Tennessean reported.
A judge vacated Webster’s conviction following a yearlong investigation by his attorney and the Davidson County District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit that found new evidence that wasn’t heard during Webster’s trial implicated another suspect.
DNA evidence from the murder weapon also excluded Webster and other witnesses have claimed another man — a relative of Webster — has implicated himself with statements admitting to an assault matching Owens’ slaying, the newspaper reported.
Owens, 37, was beaten to death with a cinder block in downtown Nashville, WZTV reported. Webster, who was 300 pounds at the time, had distinctive gold teeth, but that description wasn’t included in any reports by witnesses, according to the station.
“There is so much that’s impossible to overlook in this case,” Webster’s attorney, Daniel Horwitz, told the outlet. “That’s why I think this case is the one that ended up being the first conviction ever to be overturned here, all of the new evidence.”
Police had initially sought two suspects in the slaying. The recommendation to vacate Webster’s conviction is the first time the county’s review unit made such a move in its three-year existence, according to the Tennessean.
“It is not the court’s role to investigate cases or present proof,” Judge Steve Dozier wrote in a ruling following Tuesday’s hearing. “Justice in this case, based on the information presented to the court, requires relief to the petitioner.”
Webster, meanwhile, celebrated his newfound freedom late Tuesday by hugging his mother, who collapsed when he was eventually released from custody, the Tennessean reported.
“Lord have mercy,” Marie Burns yelled while embracing her youngest son. “I love you. I’m so glad to see you. Oh, it’s been so long, baby. Oh, it’s been so long.”
Webster, for his part, said the “truth will set you free” while speaking directly to Owens’ relatives.
“I feel their pain, but I ain’t the one that did it,” Webster told the Tennessean. “I hope they find out the person who actually did it … I do feel sympathy for them. I wish them the best on their situation, too.”
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