Joseph Webster greets his mother, Marie Burns, as he is released from prison in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. Webster, 41, was released after nearly 15 years in prison serving a life sentence for a crime the courts now believe he didn't commit. Webster 111020 An 003

(CNN)After serving 15 years for a brutal murder, a Tennessee man has been exonerated by a judge who ruled he was wrongly convicted.

The Davidson County District Attorney’s Office announced that after a four-year effort by Joseph Webster’s attorney to exonerate him, it “no longer has confidence in the conviction against Mr. Webster” and recommended the charges against him be dismissed. His exoneration will be the first in Nashville history since the Davidson County Conviction Review Unit was established in 2016, according to a statement from Webster’s attorney Daniel Horwitz.
He was transferred from Tennessee Department of Corrections custody to the downtown Nashville detention center Tuesday night, where he was released, according to his attorney.
Webster was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Leroy Owens in 1998, according to court documents. Owens was at a friend’s house when two men in a white station wagon arrived at the home and began beating Owens over what witnesses believed to be a drug debt, the documents said.
Owens was able to escape, missing a shoe, and run to another home. The resident asked Owens — who was dishevelled, bruised and scared — to leave. When he tried to run again, the men caught up with Owens, and he was fatally assaulted with a cinder block, according to court documents.
Witnesses at the time identified the man who killed Owens as Webster.
However, several of Owens’ family members later told authorities that one of his relatives had admitted to the murder, court documents said. The car was then found to be owned by that relative.
When one of the witnesses who had originally identified Webster saw a photograph of his relative, she identified him as the actual perpetrator she had seen commit the killing, not Webster.
“The State and defence 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.
A hearing took place on Tuesday to enable Webster’s release from prison.
“After a decade and a half in prison for a murder that he did not commit, I am overjoyed that Joseph Webster’s wrongful conviction will finally be overturned,” said Horwitz. “Mr. Webster is also thinking of the entire Owens family at this time, which has to process the painful news of learning that the wrong person was convicted of committing this brutal murder.”

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