A man who was wrongly convicted of a 1998 murder has been exonerated after new evidence and witness testimony cleared him of the crime.
In 2006, Joseph Webster stood trial for the murder of Leroy Owens when a jury found him guilty within hours of starting deliberations in part because witness testimony identified him as the killer.
Webster, who is now 41 years old, maintained his innocence but was sentenced to life in prison.
Ten years after his conviction, a new unit designed to review cases that may have ended in wrongful convictions found critical flaws in Webster’s trial.
Daniel Horwitz, Webster’s lawyer, launched his own investigation and applied for review from the Davidson County District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit.
NBC News reported that new evidence and witness testimony came to light. Four years after the investigation was launched, the district attorney’s office announced it ‘no longer has confidence in the conviction of Mr. Webster’ and recommended to a judge that ‘Mr. Webster’s conviction is vacated and the charges against him dismissed’.
On Tuesday, November 10, Webster was transferred from Tennessee Department of Corrections custody to the downtown Nashville detention center after he was released.
Webster was indicted on the murder charge while in custody for a lesser conviction, and as a result, has spent nearly twenty years in prison on the combined sentences.
In the WSMV report, Webster said that he was ‘so happy’ after having his conviction overturned.
“The hard part is over with and now I’ve just got to deal with this part, and that’s the best part of it,” he said.
After his release, Horwitz said Webster went ‘straight to his mother’s house’ to have his first home-cooked meal in almost two decades, which consisted of meatloaf, cornbread, turnip greens, and macaroni and cheese.
“He loves his family and he’s missed them every single day he was incarcerated,” the lawyer added.
Joquan, one of Webster’s children, had never seen his father when he wasn’t behind bars.
The 41-year-old was arrested after two men in a white station wagon chased down Owens and bludgeoned him to death with a cinderblock.
The witnesses identified two black men as the assailants, and Webster was picked from a photo lineup as being one of the suspects.
The suspect police were looking to identify was described as having a medium build and weighing roughly 160 pounds.
In comparison, Webster was roughly 300 pounds and had visibly gold teeth, a factor no witness recalled either man having.
The witness later recounted their testimony, and when Horwitz had the murder weapon tested none of Webster’s DNA was found.
“It was very clear to me that the evidence against him was extremely weak, that the investigation into this murder had been sloppy and incomplete at best, and that this was a very serious innocence claim,” Horwitz said.
According to court documents cited by NBC, Webster’s wrongful conviction case included evidence that one of his relatives, Kenny Neal, had bragged about committing the murder.
When one of the witnesses who had originally identified Webster saw a photograph of his relative, they identified him as the actual assailant they had seen commit the killing.
Webster’s exoneration marks the first in Nashville history since the Davidson County Conviction Review Unit was established in 2016.