56 year old Rickey Wyatt is celebrating his first morning of freedom after 31 years behind bars. KERA’s Bill Zeeble reports Wyatt was released from Dallas County Jail Wednesday after officials agreed his conviction was so flawed, he likely did not commit the crime.
In Judge John Creuzot’s court room packed with Wyatt’s lawyers, friends and relatives, the judge got the point.
Creuzot: Mr Wyatt it’s been a long time, 31 years. But today is a good day for you . I will send to the Court of Criminal Appeals recommending your conviction be overturned and you get a new trial. You know the state is working with your lawyers to perhaps go beyond that, to see if there’s a legitimate claim of innocence in your case. We’re not there yet. But working on it. You will be able to walk out of here with your head tall.
Creuzot said “You’re free to go,” wished him luck, and apologized for all Wyatt had been through. In 1981 Wyatt was tried and convicted of sexual assault. What his attorneys found by delving into old records, was a lineup witness who said Wyatt could not have committed the assault. He had different features, and was much too small to be the attacker. Prosecutors had other, similar evidence suggesting they had the wrong man, but withheld it. When Wyatt stood up in court, now a free man, at his side was his sobbing daughter Lisa Hill. She was three when he went to jail.
Lisa Hill: My life is like a total wreck with out my father and I’m so glad he’s back and everything.
In Rickey Wyatt’s arms was Hill’s daughter, Wyatt’s grand daughter.
Rickey Wyatt: This is the first time to hold her, it’s a wonderful feeling.
Rickey Wyatt thanked his Innocence Project lawyers, the D.A.’s office, and those who stood by him through the years. He said he had faith this day would come.
Wyatt: Yes I did, I always knew it would come. If you’re innocent, God is good you know?
Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck, standing by Wyatt, urged the discovery process stay open in cases like this. He also wants lawyers to maintain high ethical standards.
Scheck: There have to be court orders, for all the lawyers, prosecutors and defense lawyers, and people have to obey the law and the police have to make their disclosures as well, so that none of these terrible tragedies happen.
It’s not clear if Wyatt’s attorneys will pursue prosecutorial misconduct in this case. Scheck said one thing at time. When Wyatt was asked what he wanted to do now that he’s free, he said “go fishing.”