NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) — A Nashville man in prison for murder for almost 15 years may walk out a free man next week.
A FOX 17 investigation in 2018 revealed critical flaws in the murder conviction of Joseph Webster.
The Nashville district attorney agrees in a historic decision.
Joseph Webster would have died in prison if it weren’t for Daniel Horwitz, the Nashville attorney reinvestigated the case, who shared his findings with us.
We interviewed witnesses—it did not add up. And now the Nashville district attorney’s office came to the same conclusion we did: Joseph Webster is not a killer.
Here is what happened:
Leroy Owens is running in downtown Nashville during broad daylight in 1998. A white station wagon pulls up, a man jumps out, tackles Owens and beats him to death with a cinder block.
One witness said it was a man of medium build about 160 pounds, no other distinguishing characteristics, no positive identification.
But another witness, convicted prostitute and drug addict Tammy Nelson comes forward and picks Joseph Webster out of a photo line-up.
Webster is 300 pounds, and maybe even more distinguishing is his full gold grill, 12 gold teeth his family says you can see from across the street. Owens says she knows the face, but never mentions gold teeth.
It is the beginning for Horwitz who will find this isn’t even the strongest evidence that Nashville imprisoned the wrong man.
“I mean, there is so much that’s impossible to overlook in this case,” Horwitz said. “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.”
A witness comes forward: Joseph Webster’s mom, Marie Burns. Now you are going to say ‘Of course a mom is going to say her son didn’t do it.’
But here’s the thing, Marie Burns is saying her other son, Kenny Neal, is the killer.
“Because my child [Neal] 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!” said Burns.
Kenny Neal was dating Shawnna Norman at the time. Norman also came forward and testified that Kenny Neal bragged to her that he was the one who beat Leroy Owens.
“Kenny told me he had to chase him down and beat the shit out of him with a brick,” Norman said.
Tammy Nelson, the key witness, recanted her testimony. Three times.
This lead Daniel Horwitz to demand the testing of the murder weapon for DNA. There was DNA on the murder weapon, but not Joseph Webster’s.
District Attorney Glenn Funk has created a conviction review unit to correct big mistakes. If there are any, this unit reinvestigated the Joseph Webster case and came to a very clear conclusion: Joseph Webster did not kill Leroy Owens.
The D.A. in charge of the review has even more reasons.
They found three family members who all testified that Kenny Neal confessed the murder to them. They also say Kenny Neal refused to give a DNA sample or take a polygraph test.
There are a total of 39 findings leading to a conclusion that makes history in the Nashville district attorney’s office.
“The conviction review no longer has confidence in the conviction of Mr. Webster. We recommend Mr. Webster’s conviction be vacated and the charges against him dismissed.”
“Fortunately, wrongful convictions are rare, but they do occur and in cases like this where all of the evidence not only exonerates the person who was convicted, but points to somebody else specifically it’s very important to go back and make sure you are getting this right.”
There will be a hearing next Tuesday, where the D.A. will go to the courtroom where Webster was convicted and ask the judge to dismiss the charges and free Joseph Webster.
He may be able to walk right out of that courtroom and go home.
FOX 17 News will be there.