Innocence Project frees Minnesota man from prison
FAIRBAULT, Minn. (KMSP) - He emerged from prison in Faribault after more ten years behind bars and immediately hugged an attorney who’d worked hard to get him out.
But in an interesting twist, Terry Olson was not exonerated for murder. He was let out early on a legal technicality discovered during the fight to overturn his conviction. He had a choice: keep fighting or simply be resentenced and walk free. He took the latter.
“I always had hope,” Olson said in the minutes after his release. “They gave me that hope. It’s what brought me through this.”
The Innocence Project of Minnesota had been pushing for, and so far failing to get, Olson’s exoneration. They had lost their case in state appeals courts and were getting ready to take it to the federal level when the option came to take immediate release, although with it remain an convicted murderer.
Olson was convicted in 2007 for a cold case stretching back to 1979. In late summer of that year in Wright County, the body of 21-year-old Jeffrey Hammill was found on the side of a rural road. He had a fatal injury to the back of his head, but there was no other evidence at the scene. No tire tracks. No shoe prints. No sign of anything.
There was, years later, the testimony of a man named Dale Todd. He told investigators that had rekindled the cold case that he was with Olson and another man that night. There was some kind of argument or fight with Hammill, who had then left to walk home. They caught up to him, beat him and left him for dead.
But, Todd was not a consistent witness. He recanted his story before Olson’s trial in 2007, then changed his mind and testified against Olson. Then, only days after the trial, recanted again and wrote a letter to the judge insisting he had lied under pressure from investigators.
In the end, the Innocence Project of Minnesota got Olson out on a technicality, a resentencing that considers his time served. It means Olson is still considered a convicted murderer -- there was no paperwork declaring him exonerated.
‘But, we don’t think a piece of paper saying he’s innocent matters to be honest with you,” attorney David Schultz told Fox 9. “The fact is I believe he’s innocent. Terry’s always maintained his innocence. There’s not a shred of physical evidence tying him to a murder, if it even was a murder.”
As for others working to prove their innocence from behind bars, Olson message is to “hold on. There’s people working hard to make things like this happen. My day came true, thank God.”
As for what he would do with the rest of his life, Olson was not sure.
“Now, I just want to go see my mom,” he told reporters.