Joseph Webster was found innocent by a Nashville judge in the 1998 murder of Leroy Owens, for which he spent 14 years in prison

By Eric Todisco
November 12, 2020 10:30 AM
Joseph Webster
| Credit: Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean/USA Today Network/Sipa USA

A 41-year-old Tennessee man was freed from prison on Tuesday by a judged who ruled that he was wrongly convicted for a murder over two decades ago, according to multiple outlets.

Joseph Webster reunited with his family in Nashville on Tuesday night, 14 years after he was charged for first-degree murder in the 1998 slaying of Leroy Owens.

According to The Tennessean, CNN and ABC News, new evidence was recently discovered by Webster's attorney, Daniel Horwitz, that proved Webster's innocence in the crime. After an investigation by the Davidson County District Attorney's Conviction Review Unit, the charges against Webster were dismissed.

"The Conviction Review Unit no longer has confidence in the conviction of Mr. Webster,” a motion to vacate the charges against Webster read, per ABC News. “We recommend Mr. Webster’s conviction be vacated and the charges against him dismissed.”

Webster was transferred from Tennessee Department of Corrections custody to the downtown Nashville detention center Tuesday night, where he was freed, according to CNN.

Joseph Webster
| Credit: Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean/USA Today Network/Sipa USA

In 1998, Owens was at a friend's house when he was attacked and beaten by two men over an apparent drug debt, CNN reported. While Owens managed to escape, the men eventually caught him and killed him with a cinder block.

At the time, witnesses identified the man who killed Owens as Webster, who was subsequently charged and found guilty for the crime in 2006.

However, several of Owens' family members eventually informed authorities that one of Owens' relatives had admitted to the murder, according to CNN and ABC News. After one of the witnesses was given a picture of Owens' relative, she identified him as the murderer, not Webster.

In addition, newly-tested DNA evidence from the murder weapon excluded Webster as a contributor, The Tennessean reported.

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A hearing took place on Tuesday and Webster was absolved from the crimes.

"Mr. Webster has always believed that this day would come, and he is beyond grateful to the many people who helped ensure it did," said Horwitz, per ABC News. "He hopes his faith and persistence will inspire others in the future, but for now he’s just looking forward to reuniting with his family, eating a home-cooked meal and starting over

According to Horwtiz, Webster's exoneration is the first in Nashville history since the Davidson County Conviction Review Unit was established in 2016, CNN reported.