OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma judge on Tuesday exonerated a man who spent 30 years in prison for a 1987 rape and burglary, after post-conviction DNA testing from a rape kit showed he did not commit the crime.
Pontotoc County District Judge Steven Kessinger issued a final order that vacates Perry Lott’s conviction and permanently dismisses the case.
“I have never lost hope that this day would come,” Lott, 61, said in a statement. “I had faith that the truth would prevail, even after 35 long years.
“I can finally shut this door and move on with my life.”
Lott was released from prison in 2018 after the DNA results first came to light, but only after agreeing to a deal with former District Attorney Paul Smith to modify his sentence. The agreement allowed Lott to leave prison and remain free while his motion to vacate was litigated. At the time, Smith said the DNA evidence did not exclude Lott as a suspect.
But earlier this year, the Innocence Project, which helped to free Lott, approached newly elected District Attorney Erik Johnson, who reviewed the case and agreed the conviction should be vacated.
“Five years ago, all evidence pointed to his innocence, but he was denied justice,” Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Adnan Sultan said in a statement. “We are grateful to District Attorney Erik Johnson for his commitment to righting this wrong.”
Oklahoma state law requires a conviction to be vacated in order for a wrongfully convicted person to be able to seek up to $175,000 in compensation from the state.
Lott’s case occurred around the same time and in the same county as the convictions of Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot, whose cases have come under intense scrutiny and have been the subject of numerous books, including John Grisham’s “The Innocent Man,” which he produced into a six-part documentary on Netflix. A federal judge ordered Fontenot released, but Ward remains in prison.
The books and documentary also feature the high-profile exoneration of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz, who both were convicted in the same county for the 1982 killing of Ada waitress Debra Sue Carter. That case featured the same cast of investigators and prosecutors, along with the same jailhouse informant who testified against Ward and Fontenot. Williamson at one point came within days of being executed. Both were later freed.