FERRIER FILES: Nashville murder conviction investigation to be reopened


The District Attorney's Office in Nashville plans to reopen an investigation into a murder conviction - an act that has never been done in the history of Nashville courts. The case involves the murder of a Nashville man and the conviction of Joseph Webster.

Will an innocent man spend the rest of his life behind bars? It's a question many hope will be answered as the DA's office takes another look at the murder case conviction.

So, what new evidence suggests Joseph Webster may not be a killer?

Let's start from the beginning - downtown Nashville in 1998. Leroy Owens is running in broad daylight when a white station wagon pulls up near him.

A man jumps out of the car, tackles Owens, then violently beats him to death with a cinder block. The crime left his head caved in.

One witness said blood covered the ground like paint, but didn't see a face.

Only one person claims to have seen the person responsible for the crime: Convicted drug addict and prostitute Tammy Nelson. She looked at a photo lineup and picked out Joseph Webster.

But Webster wasn't arrested until 2005. An arrest eight years after the bloody murder with new evidence nowhere to be found.

Webster was arrested based on Tammy Nelson's old testimony and the white station wagon seen outside of Webster's girlfriend's grandmother's house the night before the murder.

"Everything in this case has fallen apart since Mr. Webster's conviction," said his attorney Daniel Horwitz.

Tammy Nelson has since recanted her testimony three times, but there's more.

Marie Burns has two sons: Joseph Webster and Kenny Neal. She believes Joseph is innocent. How does she know?

Burns tells FOX 17 News her other son, Kenny admitted to her that he did it.

"Because my child came to me, he kept saying they can't say Joseph is him, but they did. Don't worry, how can they say Joseph is me," Burns remembered.

But that's not all. Kenny Neal's girlfriend at the time, Shawanna Norman, said Kenny also told her he did it.

"Kenny told me he had to chase a [expletive] down and beat the [expletive] out of him with a brick," Norman said.

Shawanna also said Kenny Neal drove the white station wagon more often than his brother Joseph.

Now what about the cinder block? The Innocence Project tested the murder weapon for DNA. There's a hand print on the brick, but it doesn't belong to Joseph Webster.

"I think this is simple. Everything we find implicates someone else specifically and exonerates Joseph Webster," Horwitz said. "I think there is more than enough to conclude that. They just got this one wrong. Mistakes are made. It is totally understandable, but we need to rectify things."

So, what's next?

Following the DA's investigation, the conviction review unit will provide a report to District Attorney General Glenn Funk. He will then determine whether clear and convincing evidence exists.

The conviction review unit's sole job is to check cases to make sure prosecutors got it right. Joseph Webster's case has already made history. Another case has never gone this far before.

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