In 1989, 16-year-old Johnny Small was sentenced to life in prison; now age 42, he's still there. That might change, after a state witness whose testimony helped seal Small's conviction recanted his testimony on Monday. "I was forced to do something I didn’t want to and I can’t take it back," David Bollinger told North Carolina's New Hanover County Superior Court. The AP reports that when the police came to arrest Small for the shooting death of Pamela Dreher, 32, who was found face-down in the pet store she owned, he thought they had come for him over a curfew violation. On the contrary: A teenager's call to a tipline led police to Small and Bollinger, then 19, reported the Star News in July; he had lived with Small for a time.
Bollinger now says a Wilmington Police Department detective told him he'd get the death penalty unless he said Small was the killer. He says police also told him Small would be released by age 21. So he pointed the finger at his friend, saying he drove Small to the shop to use a payphone, and that Small admitted to killing Dreher. He testified Monday he wasn't with Small that day, and that an unexpected 2012 meeting with a man who had been exonerated of rape compelled him to step forward. The Star News reports Bollinger's grandfather, a former cop, had instructed Bollinger to keep quiet about the lie, but that the 2012 experience made him feel the truth would be believed. A motion filed in 2015 lays out problems in the case, among them: Bollinger's boss said the two were at a car auction in South Carolina on the day in question. (This man was cleared of murder after serving 10 years.)