Tennessee man exonerated after serving nearly 15 years in prison

Joseph Webster is reunited with his family after being wrongfully convicted of murder and sent to a Tennessee prison in 2006.

After spending nearly two decades behind bars, a Nashville man is released from prison after a judge ruled he was wrongly convicted.

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According to Tennessean, Joseph Webster was embraced by his mother who was overwhelmed with emotion after he exited the detention center a free man. His mom, Marie Burns, waited hours for her son, trying not to cry too much. The news outlet detailed she had to be taken across the street after she collapsed during the reuniting event. The 41-year-old was in prison for almost 15 years after being convicted of the 1998 murder of Leroy Owens.

“Lord have mercy,” she shouted, according to the outlet. “I love you. I’m so glad to see you. Oh, it’s been so long, baby. Oh, it’s been so long.”

Tennessee Joseph Webster www.theGrio.com
(Image via Daniel A. Horwitz Twitter @Scot_Blog)

A Nashville judge ordered his conviction was to be vacated according to Tennessean, which resulted in the dismissal of the murder charge and his immediate release. The District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit uncovered new evidence proving Webster’s innocence. The CRU was urged to investigate by attorney Daniel Horwitz. 

“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, which is and should be central to how we view our role in the justice system. When we determined we no longer had confidence in the conviction, we had a moral and ethical obligation to act,” current CRU Director Sunny Eaton said in an interview with the news outlet.

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According to Fox 17, an investigative report witness stories did not add up. The victim was brutally beaten and killed by what one witness described as a man of medium build about 160 pounds Fox 17 reported. Webster was well over the weight description and wore a distinguishing gold grill in his mouth, not mentioned by the witness. The news outlet detailed he was picked out of a lineup by a convicted sex worker and addict, Tammy Nelson, who also did not bring up the gold teeth.

“I mean, there is so much that’s impossible to overlook in this case,” Horwitz said to Fox 17. “That’s why I think this case is the one that ended up being the first conviction ever to be overturned here, all of the new evidence.”

Horwitz release a statement on the release via Twitter:


Nelson eventually recanted her testimony multiple times according to the report. Burns claimed her other son Kenny Neal may in fact be responsible for the murder. Shawnna Norman, his girlfriend at the time also alleged Neal bragged about beating Owens to death. Three family members in total claimed Neal confessed and say he refused a lie detector test and a DNA sample.

“Kenny told me he had to chase him down and beat the shit out of him with a brick,” Norman said according to Fox 17.

Webster shared a message to the Owens family upon his release.

“I feel their pain, but I ain’t the one that did it. I hope they find out the person who actually did it,” he said according to Tennessean. “I do feel sympathy for them. I wish them the best on their situation, too.

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