Judge Releases Man Convicted of 1996 Murder

     FORT WORTH (CN) – A Texas man who spent 19 years in prison for murder was freed on bond Tuesday morning because of doubts raised by new DNA evidence and withheld evidence about informant testimony.
     Tarrant County District Judge Louis Sturns released John Earl Nolley, 42, on a personal recognizance bond and entered an order recommending his murder conviction be vacated. He was convicted in 1998 for the brutal 1996 stabbing death of Sharon McLane in Bedford.
     The judge issued the order based on two issues – new palm print evidence based on testing technology that did not exist at the time of trial, and prosecutors’ failure to disclose exculpatory information regarding informants who testified against Nolley.
     An emotional Nolley told the judge he thanks God for “sustaining” him during his long prison sentence. He also thanked his family, District Attorney Sharen Wilson and his attorneys with the Innocence Project for “seeking justice” for him.
     The standing-room only crowd applauded as Nolley stood up a free man and hugged his attorneys, including Innocence Project director Barry Scheck and Reagan Wynn of Kearney Wynn in Fort Worth.
     Nolley smiled broadly as he exited the courtroom, telling reporters he felt “blessed” as he hugged his adult children and grandchildren.
     “I am just so overwhelmed, there are too many emotions to focus to just channel in on one,” he said. “I have my family with me and God sustained everything I love. It is time to move on.”
     Wilson touted the case as an example of her 10-month-old Conviction Integrity Unit working. She made clear Nolley’s release is not an exoneration, but is instead a release as his innocence is being reconsidered.
     “It is an example of how both changes in forensic technology and flaws in the process can lead to the potential for different conclusions with the passage of time,” Wilson said in a statement. “It has been our goal with the CIU that should we discover any errors, we be committed to finding a solution to prevent future occurrences.”
     Nolley was not the source of a bloody palm print on a piece of paper found on the victim’s body, the Innocence Project and Wilson’s office determined.
     “With the support of the D.A.’s office, an expert using new digital technology that wasn’t available at the time of the trial examined the bloody palm print on the paper found on the victim’s body and concluded that it didn’t come from Nolley,” the Innocence Project said in a statement.
     “The print also didn’t match to any of areas of McLane’s palm or hand for which ‘clear and complete impressions were recorded at autopsy,’ indicating that she was also likely not the source … 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 group said. (Parentheses in original.)
     One of the informants gave “starkly contradictory” testimony to the grand jury about statements Nolley allegedly made about having “cut” or stabbed someone, his lawyers said.
     Innocence Project staff attorney Nina Morrison said the group is “incredibly grateful” to Wilson’s office for being “cooperative” and “committed” to reinvestigating the case with “fresh eyes.”
     “No stone was left unturned in this investigation, and it is because of the Unit’s commitment to seeking the truth that Mr. Nolley’s conviction was reversed today,” Morrison said.
     The judge’s order now awaits review by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal appeals court.

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