A Texas who spent half of his life in prison after being wrongfully convicted of stabbing a woman to death 29 years ago has been freed after DNA evidence proved his innocence.
The Associated Press reports that Randolph Arledge, now 58 years old, was released on Monday after spending the last 29 years behind bars.
"It's indescribable," Arledge said while triumphantly raising his hands after being set free. "[It's] a beautiful feeling."
Arledge was wrongfully convicted for the August 1981 murder of Carolyn Armstrong, who was found on a dirt road in Navarro County, Texas stripped from the waist down and stabbed more than 40 times. Investigators found Armstrong's abandoned car miles away. Inside was a black hairnet from which hair samples with preserved DNA were taken more than 30 years later. In 2011, DNA testing of that hair linked Armstrong's murder to someone else.
Arledge was convicted of the killing largely based on the testimony of Bennie Lamas and Paula Lucas, his two co-defendants in a Tennessee armed robbery that occurred shortly after the Armstrong murder. Lamas told the jury during Arledge's murder trial that he had confessed to killing the woman while they were en route from Texas to Tennessee. Lamas later recanted his testimony and admitted that he also persuaded Lucas to corroborate his story. He said he did this for three reasons-- Arledge had allegedly handed him a gun just before they were arrested in Tennessee, he suspected that Arledge was having an affair with Lucas and, most importantly, his sentence was reduced for the armed robbery.
"Testifying falsely in exchange for an incentive-- in this case, a sentence reduction-- is often the last resort for a desperate prisoner," Bryce Benjet, an attorney with the Innocence Project, said.
Despite a lack of physical evidence linking him to Armstrong's murder and credible alibi testimony from several witnesses, Arledge was found guilty and sentenced to 99 years behind bars in March, 1984. At the time, his son was 7 and his daughter was only 4 years old.
"They suffered more than anybody," Arledge said of his children. "She's always talking about it. She wanted me to come pick her up from school. Now she's picking me up," he told reporters as he pointed to daughter Randa Arledge.
His children never stopped believing in their father's innocence.
"Every time he came up for parole, it was broken, shattered hopes," Randa told the Associated Press.
Fortunately for Arledge, all of the physical evidence from the crime scene, including that crucial hair sample, was subjected to DNA analysis in 2011. On June 7, 2011, the Texas Department of Public Safety reported that authorities had found a DNA match using the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database. That analysis, combined with further investigation of pubic hair combings taken from the scene of Armstrong's murder, pointed to a man named David Sims as the real killer.
Sims later told police that he was working at a fast-food restaurant near where Armstrong disappeared in 1981, and that he would often leave work wearing a hairnet. Four years after Armstrong's murder, Sims allegedly stabbed another woman more than 90 times. She survived, and Sims pleaded no contest to attempted murder.
Benjet, the Innocence Project attorney, said that access to CODIS was instrumental in freeing Arledge for a crime he did not commit.
"Texas is one of only nine states that guarantee defendants access to search the CODIS database, which was critical to proving Mr. Arldege's innocence and identifying another man," Benjet said.
Appearing in court in Corsicana on Monday, Arledge was ordered released on bond while the process of overturning his conviction proceeds. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will now consider Judge James Lagomarsino's recommendation that the wrongful conviction be overturned.
Arledge will also now be eligible for compensation. Under Texas law, wrongfully convicted individuals are entitled to $80,000 for each year they were imprisoned, plus annuities and other benefits. Arledge spent around half of his time behind bars in a Tennessee prison, so it is unclear how much compensation he will receive.
Arledge is the 118th person to have his conviction overturned in Texas state courts. He said that the first thing he was going to do after walking out of the courthouse was to buy himself a cheeseburger and a banana split.