State Watch

Judge exonerates Tennessee man who served 15 years for murder

A Tennessee man who served 15 years in prison was exonerated Tuesday after a judge found he was wrongly convicted of first-degree murder.

An attorney for 41-year-old Joseph Webster fought for four years to acquit him of his charges, the Tennessean reported.

The Davidson County District ruled this week that the court “no longer has confidence in the conviction against Mr. Webster” and motioned the charges against him be dropped.

Daniel Horwitz, Webster’s attorney, published a statement noting that his client’s exoneration would be the first in Nashville history since the Davidson County Conviction Review Unit (CRU) was established four years ago.

Webster’s release marks a years-long investigation into the case that presented enough evidence for the state to lose confidence in Webster’s conviction.

“For the District Attorney, for General Glenn Funk to create a CRU is a bold and courageous step to take in ensuring that our office engages in self-reflection and self-accountability … When we determined we no longer had confidence in the conviction, we had a moral and ethical obligation to act,” CRU Director Sunny Eaton told The Hill.

According to court documents, Webster was convicted of first-degree murder of Leroy Owens in 1998, as witnesses at the time identified the assailant as Webster.

Owens was found beaten to death in a public housing area in November 1998, when Webster and one other were identified as suspects in his murder.

Family members of the victim later admitted that Owen’s murder was committed by one of his relatives, not Webster.

When one witness who initially identified the assailant as Webster saw a photo of the relative who is an alleged suspect, they recognized them as the actual perpetrator.

“The State and defense counsel submit that evidence not previously presented to the jury or to the Court indicates another individual committed the murder of Leroy Owens,” according to court documents.

Webster reunited with his family and children Tuesday, celebrating his prison exit with tears of joy.

“It’s been a long time,” Webster said. “I just want to enjoy my family. I missed a lot of their life.”

Horwitz noted Webster is thinking of the Owens family as they process the “painful news” of learning he was not responsible for the death of their family member.

State Watch