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TARRANT COUNTY (CBSDFW.COM) – A North Texas man imprisoned for killing a Bedford woman was back in court today. John Earl Nolley was released on bond and allowed to return to live with his family, after spending nearly 20 years in prison for a crime that evidence supports he did not commit.

“It’s just overwhelming. Too many emotions to focus on,” said Nolley. “It’s been tough, but I believe that God allows things for various reasons and I have come out a lot stronger.”

After years of defense attorney attempts, a judge ordered that the DNA of Nolley be retested. Nolley was sent to prison for life after he was convicted of murdering Bedford resident Sharon McLane back in 1996.

Sharon McLane, a mother of four, was found slain in her apartment in December of  1996.  She is pictured here with her two youngest children. (credit: Star-Telegram archives)

Sharon McLane, a mother of four, was found slain in her apartment in December of 1996. She is pictured here with her two youngest children. (credit: Star-Telegram archives)

Sharon McLane was found dead less than two weeks before Christmas. She was stabbed almost 60 times. Police didn’t arrest Nolley, who was good friends with McLane, until more than eight months after the murder. He was convicted of murder the following year.

It was just last month when District Judge Louis Sturns ordered the Bedford Police Department to release items from the case, including a beer can, Coke bottle and a black jacket, to the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office. The evidence was then taken to the University of North Texas Health Science Center where new DNA tests were performed.

(credit: CBSDFW.COM)

(credit: CBSDFW.COM)

Innocence Project lawyer Barry Scheck and others attorneys had worked on Mr. Nolley’s case for 10 years and today presented a two-part grievance to Judge Sturns. They said Mr. Nolly had never received a fair trial since his conviction was based on false testimony and evidence that had just recently been tested for DNA and proven not to be his.

“The investigation continues and sometime in the upcoming months we hope to have a final conclusion in innocence and exoneration. We are not there yet,” said Scheck.

Lawyers for Nolley said that at the time of their client’s trial experts had said the evidence, including  a bloody palm print on paper found on McLane’s body, was not suitable for DNA analysis, but that today those experts agreed it could be analyzed. Nolley’s lawyer said he, “…was convicted at a time when technology was not as advanced as it is today.” And that, “We have compared it [DNA evidence] to Mr. Nolly’s and it is not Mr. Nolly’s.”

In light of the circumstances lawyers said, “It is likely that Mr. Nolly would have been acquitted at trial and would not have been convicted had this new evidence been available.”

Attorneys with the Innocence Project and the Tarrant County Conviction Integrity Unit were both involved with getting Nolley’s case reviewed.

Prosecutors agreed with the assertions made by the defense and told Judge Sturns, “This is a good example of exactly what we set out to do with our Conviction Integrity Unit.”

(credit: CBSDFW.COM)

(credit: CBSDFW.COM)

Before being set free on bond John Nolley stood before the court and thanked his family, his lawyers and even the DA’s Office and Judge for “seeking justice.”

Judge Sturns closed the hearing by recommending that Nolley’s conviction be vacated. He said, “At this time I have signed the approved order and I have signed the bond condition and Mr. Nolly will be released on a personal recognizance bond.”

After walking out of the courtroom Nolley hugged his family, as a free man, for the first time in 19 years.

Surrounded by his family, including two sons, now young men, who were only babies when he went to prison Nolley said, “It’s just overwhelming. Too many emotions to focus, to just channel in on one. I’m blessed. I have my family with me.  God sustained everything I love.  It’s time to move on.”

While Nolley, now 42-years-old, was freed today the hearing did not exonerate him. Nolley was simply released while his claims of innocence are being considered.

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