Tulsa County District Judge Sharon Holmes vacated the first-degree murder conviction of Corey Atchison on Tuesday and ordered him released after 28 years in prison.
Holmes said she believes evidence that eyewitnesses who testified against Atchison during his 1991 trial were coerced by police and former District Attorney Tim Harris. Other witnesses have testified that the shooter did not match Atchison’s physical description, evidence that was not presented to the 1991 jury. Holmes also questioned trial court judge Clifford Hopper’s decision to allow irrelevant evidence about gangs in Tulsa at the trial.
Atchison was convicted in the 1990 shooting death of James Lane and was sentenced to life in prison by Hopper.
When he emerged from the Tulsa County jail Tuesday, Atchison said life is too short to hold any grudges about his false conviction, a remarkable statement considering where he has been for the past 28 years and why. Atchison has always maintained his innocence. Now, we all know.
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler disputes the claims of coercion, as does Harris. An assistant district attorney also questioned whether Holmes was overstepping a district court’s function in reconsidering evidence in the Atchison case. Kunzweiler promised to appeal Holmes’ finding.
We’ve seen the same disturbing scenario of questionable evidence and false convictions played out repeatedly in recent years.
Some of those cases have led to spectacularly high judgments and settlements against the city.
The potential cost to taxpayers is important, but it’s not the most important issue here.
A false conviction is a double sin against justice. It puts the wrong person in prison and allows the guilty person to walk the streets. It undermines public safety, faith in police, prosecutors, judges and American justice.
We expect perfection from our courts, which, being human institutions, are sometimes imperfect. In this case, it seems weak to say that the same court system that sent Atchison to prison wrongly eventually released him because that exoneration came 28 years too late.
Corey Atchison and attorneys react after he was released from custody, where he spent 28 years serving time on a wrongful murder conviction