Man convicted of 1991 murder released amid new DNA evidence

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OKLAHOMA CITY — A man convicted of a 1991 murder has been released from prison after a judge’s ruling due to new DNA evidence.

Johnny Tallbear has been in prison for almost 27 years for a crime he claims he didn’t commit.

"The ball and chain is still in there somewhere. I'm so relieved," Tallbear said.

Those were some of Tallbear's first words following a judge's ruling on Monday, making him a free man.

"A lot of things that shouldn't be going on that's happened. We need judicial reform and prison reform," Tallbear said.

Tallbear was convicted for the 1991 murder of a transient after an eyewitness claimed he saw two men fighting with a third man, one of them allegedly Tallbear, near Reno and S. Walker where the victim's body was found.

"Mr. Tallbear was convicted based on an eyewitness identification of a gentleman who was about a football field away at dusk. He saw two men beating another man on the ground, and that is all he saw," said Karen Thompson, a senior attorney with The Innocence Project.

Thompson said new DNA testing disproves that eyewitness account.

It's one of several cases of alleged botched DNA evidence in the early 1990s under forensic analyst Joyce Gilchrist.

"It showed that there were two men present at the crime scene, in blood, and those men were not Mr. Tallbear," Thompson said.

"Still have an eyewitness that identified Mr. Tallbear but, based on the fact that the DNA evidence seems to controvert the forensic evidence that was presented to the jury, there's a reasonable probability that the jury could have made a different decision," said David Prater, the district attorney for Oklahoma County.

The prosecution still maintains there's a chance Tallbear is guilty but, based on the new evidence, they agreed to his release.

"Every morning I asked God, what can I do for you today, God? When you know with your heart, mind, body and soul, God will use each and every one of you, no matter how big your calling is or how small your calling is. Do your calling because God is using you," Tallbear said.

The remains of the victim, who was known as 'Pops,' were never identified.

The two men also remain unknown at this time.

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