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As the deadline nears for the state to either release or recharge John Brown, who has been in prison for 26 years on a murder conviction that was overturned last month, authorities said Monday that they are still trying to decide how to proceed.

On Aug. 21, U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson threw out the Dallas County murder conviction that has kept Brown, 51, in prison for more than half his life. In response to a petition filed in late 2016 by the Midwest Innocence Project, Wilson found that Brown was wrongfully convicted in a 1992 jury trial of the 1988 rape and murder of a 78-year-old Fordyce woman, Myrtle Holmes.

Brown was visiting relatives in Fordyce when the woman was found beaten and stabbed to death in her home on Sept. 22, 1988. Wilson reviewed trial testimony and conducted evidentiary hearings before siding with the Innocence Project, which said Brown was convicted solely on the false confession of a vulnerable and mentally limited co-defendant and the use of informants whose incentives for testifying were never revealed to jurors.

"The state's failure to disclose the use of an informant to entice the confession is sufficient, alone, to undermine confidence in the verdict," Wilson wrote. "But this was not its only failure. The state also failed to disclose, and actually destroyed, a recording of the informant eliciting the confession."

Wilson cited other reasons for his ruling: the violation of evidentiary rules, the likelihood that the prosecution knowingly allowed one of its witnesses to give false testimony, and the absence of any physical evidence connecting Brown to the crime despite an abundance of evidence collected, including hair found in the woman's hands and genetic material found under her fingernails.

Wilson's 26-page order, filed Aug. 21, gives the state 30 days to either release Brown or recharge him with a plan to retry him.

The state has filed a notice that it will appeal Wilson's ruling to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, but Wilson has denied the state's request for a stay of the ruling while the case is on appeal.

"There is no reason for [Brown] to remain in custody while [the state] appeals -- a process that could take two years," Wilson said in an order filed Aug. 30. "As I set out in the Aug. 21, 2018 Order: Respondent has thirty days from the entry of this order to release Mr. Brown or institute new criminal proceedings against him."

Asked last week whether the attorney general's office would advocate a retrial or allow the release without opposition, spokesman Amanda Priest said, "Attorney General [Leslie] Rutledge will continue to work on behalf of the State and particularly the victim of his horrific murder to ensure justice is done."

On Monday, John Thomas Shepherd, the chief prosecutor for the state's 13th Judicial District, which includes Dallas County, said, "I really think right now is too early to make a decision on that."

Metro on 09/11/2018

Print Headline: Decision to retry convict up in air; Judge threw out ’92 murder case

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