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'It Did Not Add Up,' and 15 Years Later, He's Free

Joseph Webster's murder conviction overturned
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 12, 2020 10:20 AM CST

(Newser) – A Tennessee man has been reunited with family after serving almost 15 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. Joseph Webster's attorney, Daniel Horwitz, has spent the past four years reinvestigating the 1998 slaying of Leroy Owens and shared his findings with WZTV. "We interviewed witnesses—it did not add up," the outlet reports, noting the Davidson County District Attorney's Office came to the same conclusion. Webster was sentenced in 2006 after a witness identified him in a photo line-up as the man who fatally assaulted Owens with a cinder block in Nashville, apparently as retribution for a drug debt. But the witness recanted after seeing a photo of Webster's brother, Kenny Neal, whom she identified as the actual killer, per CNN and WZTV. Neal more closely matched a description of the 160-pound assailant—Webster was 300 pounds—and owned the white station wagon known to be at the scene.

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Neal's girlfriend at the time and at least three family members, including his mother, also claimed he confessed, per WZTV. A judge overturned Webster's first-degree murder conviction on Tuesday after the director of the county's Conviction Review Unit announced authorities had "lost confidence" in the conviction. Webster is now the first to be exonerated under the Conviction Review Unit established in 2016. He was transferred from state custody to the Nashville detention center and released Tuesday night. He "always believed that this day would come," Horwitz tells the Tennessean. "He hopes his faith and persistence will inspire others in the future, but for now he's just looking forward to reuniting with his family, eating a home-cooked meal and starting over." Neal had not been charged as of Tuesday. (Read more wrongful conviction stories.)

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