April 3, 2005 in Nation/World

Inmate exonerated, freed after 13 years

Associated Press
 

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – A man has been freed after 13 years in prison for a death authorities thought was caused by a blow from a whiskey bottle, but which new evidence suggests happened when the victim was hit by a motor home.

Larry Souter, 53, was tried in 1992 and sentenced to 20 to 60 years in prison for the death of 19-year-old Kristy Ringler. She was found in the middle of a road in 1979 and later died from head wounds.

“I’m not a bitter person,” Souter said after his release Friday. “I’m very excited and very emotional. I had a lot of support behind me.”

According to court testimony, Souter and Ringler met at a bar and later attended a party. He said she decided to walk along the highway after she refused to let him drive her home. Souter said he returned to the party.

For years, medical experts disagreed about how Ringler was injured.

In January, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found “sufficient doubt” about Souter’s guilt to order a federal judge to determine if he deserved a new trial.

Then a new witness came forward.

The woman, whose name has been sealed by the judge, read about Souter’s appeal and recalled that her father’s motor home had a broken mirror in 1979 and he had refused to talk about how it was damaged.

Police records show that the woman’s father also told investigators he had driven on the road where Ringler was hurt around the same time her body was found, Souter’s attorney John Smietanka said.

The woman’s father died about five years ago.

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