James Newsome walked out of court a free man Wednesday, 15 years after he had been locked up for a murder he didn’t commit.
“The easy part is over with. This is the hardest part now,” a smiling Newsome said after his release. He said he plans to go to law school.
Based on new evidence, Circuit Judge Thomas Fitzgerald ruled Wednesday that Newsome is entitled to a new trial, and prosecutors said they are dropping charges.
Newsome insisted all along he didn’t commit the 1979 grocery store robbery and murder. He enlisted friends and lawyers to prove it.
A computer analysis in November established that fingerprints found at the crime scene belong to another man already imprisoned for a similar robbery and murder.
Prosecutors said others may be charged in the case.
“We nagged and nagged and nagged” to get prosecutors and defense lawyers to re-examine the evidence, said Norval Morris, a University of Chicago legal scholar who took up Newsome’s cause.
Grocery items handled by the killer were covered with fingerprints, but they didn’t belong to Newsome, Morris said.
Newsome, who turned 40 on Monday, said he never was embittered by the experience and was convinced he would be freed from his life sentence.”It was important for my own well-being. I understood what I had to do,” Newsome said.
Morris and Newsome became acquainted in the mid-1980s when Morris was working in the library at Statesville Correctional Center on an unrelated case.
Newsome asked Morris to look into his case. “I did and came to the view that he was probably innocent,” Morris said.
“For 15 years, he went to bed every night, the only person in the world who knew he was innocent.”