Man released from prison after DNA test

Tuesday, October 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WAGONER, Okla. (AP) _ A man whose murder conviction was thrown into question by new DNA testing walked free Tuesday after nearly two decades in prison. His first move _ proclaiming his innocence on the courthouse steps.

Albert Wesley Brown, 39, remains a suspect in the 1981 murder of a retired Tulsa firefighter. But a judge agreed to his release while prosecutors decide whether to retry him.

After shedding his prison orange for a T-shirt and jeans, Brown stood outside the Wagoner County courthouse and read haltingly from a statement.

``I've been in prison 20 years for a crime I didn't commit,'' he said.

He thanked his attorneys, prosecutors, the judge and the state DNA program that helped free him, saying he probably would have died in prison without it. He asked Oklahomans to pray for him.

``I have been forgotten for 20 years,'' he said. ``Please don't forget me now.''

Brown originally was scheduled for release Oct. 16 after DNA tests proved critical evidence against him false. But he was held for two more weeks because of concern over his poor prison record.

Even in releasing Brown, Judge Bruce Sewell expressed reservations, noting that Brown remained charged with murder and had problems controlling his anger. He also admitted using drugs recently in prison, the judge said.

Brown's release on his own recognizance came with conditions that he attend anger management courses, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, get a job and meet routinely with the judge.

Prosecutors have 5 1/2 months to decide if there is enough evidence to retry Brown in the murder of Earl Taylor. Investigators believe Taylor was killed after interrupting a burglary at his Sallisaw home. His body was discovered in Fort Gibson lake.

District Attorney Dianne Barker Harrold said prosecutors suspect two people were involved in Taylor's murder and plan to look for a second suspect.

Unlike other cases in Oklahoma in which DNA testing overturned rape convictions, the new evidence in this case was not enough to eliminate Brown as a suspect, she said.

``This does not render him innocent,'' Barker Harrold said. ``It renders him available for a new trial.''

Barker Harrold said the fact the case is 20 years old will make it difficult to investigate but ``justice demands that we take a different look.''

During Brown's 1983 trial, prosecutors contended that hair found on a gag in the victim's mouth was linked to Brown. But the new DNA analysis proved that false.

It also proved wrong an investigator's testimony that four hairs found in the trunk of a car driven by Brown were consistent with the victim's.

Sewell said he had reviewed the transcript of the case and said that Brown likely would have been held over for trial even without the disputed evidence. He said Brown was an admitted car thief and burglar and there were ``troubling coincidences'' about his proximity to where the murder took place.

But Sewell said he couldn't speak to the jury's decision absent that evidence.

Brown had 44 infractions while in prison, including allegations he conspired with others in the stabbing of another inmate, prosecutors said. The judge also noted an ``outburst'' while he was held at the Wagoner County Jail.

He urged Brown to take advantage of an inpatient drug treatment program and cautioned him to conduct himself in ``the manner of someone who was wrongly convicted,'' adding that the bond could be revoked.

Brown plans to live with his brother, Jeff Brown, in Okmulgee. The two plan a fishing trip on Wednesday.

As he left the courthouse, Brown stressed the importance of the DNA testing program, saying it was likely there were innocent people in prison.

``Please don't forget the rest,'' he said.

He declined to take questions about the case and pushed past reporters saying, ``I'm going home.''