After spending 15 years in a Nashville, Tenn., prison, a Black man was exonerated of a brutal murder after a judge ruled that he was wrongfully convicted.
CNN reports that 41-year-old Joseph Webster was released from prison Tuesday following a four-year effort by his attorneys to have his 2005 conviction overturned and the charges against him dismissed.
Webster was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Leroy Owens in 1998, according to court documents. Owens was at a friend’s house when two men in a white station wagon arrived at the home and began beating Owens over what witnesses believed to be a drug debt, the documents said.
Owens was able to escape, missing a shoe, and run to another home. The resident asked Owens — who was disheveled, bruised and scared — to leave. When he tried to run again, the men caught up with Owens, and he was fatally assaulted with a cinder block, according to court documents.
Witnesses at the time identified the man who killed Owens as Webster.
However, several of Owens’ family members later told authorities that one of his relatives had admitted to the murder, court documents said. The car was then found to be owned by that relative.
When one of the witnesses who had originally identified Webster saw a photograph of his relative, she identified him as the actual perpetrator she had seen commit the killing, not Webster.
Fox 17, which conducted an investigation of the case in 2018, reports that one witness described Owens’ killer as “a man of medium build about 160 pounds” and no other distinguishable characteristics. That’s strange, considering Webster is around 300 pounds and wore a full gold grill the family said “you can see from across the street,” according to Fox 17.
Daniel Horwitz, the Nashville attorney who reinvestigated the case, told the network that the inconsistencies in witness testimony are just one thing wrong with Webster’s conviction.
“I mean, there is so much that’s impossible to overlook in this case,” Horwitz said. “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.”
From Fox 17:
A witness comes forward: Joseph Webster’s mom, Marie Burns. Now you are going to say ‘Of course a mom is going to say her son didn’t do it.’
But here’s the thing, Marie Burns is saying her other son, Kenny Neal, is the killer.
“Because my child [Neal] came to me. He kept saying they can’t say Joseph is him, but they did, don’t worry how can they say Joseph is me!” said Burns.
Kenny Neal was dating Shawnna Norman at the time. Norman also came forward and testified that Kenny Neal bragged to her that he was the one who beat Leroy Owens.
“Kenny told me he had to chase him down and beat the shit out of him with a brick,” Norman said.
If all of that isn’t enough to make you want to punch something while racking your brain trying to figure out how Webster got convicted in the first place, Horwitz’s investigation revealed that DNA was found on the murder weapon but it wasn’t Webster’s and that the key witness who identified Webster, Tammy Nelson, recanted her testimony three times.
According to CNN, the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office announced that the judge “no longer has confidence in the conviction against Mr. Webster”—because...no shit—and that Webster would be released and all charges against him dismissed.
“After a decade and a half in prison for a murder that he did not commit, I am overjoyed that Joseph Webster’s wrongful conviction will finally be overturned,” Horwitz said, CNN reports. “Mr. Webster is also thinking of the entire Owens family at this time, which has to process the painful news of learning that the wrong person was convicted of committing this brutal murder.”
According to News 5 Nashville, Webster’s exoneration represents the first time an innocent person was exonerated of murder in Nashville.
“It’s unbelievable but believable,” Webster told News 5. “The truth will set you free. I just didn’t know when.”