PORTLAND, Oregon — An Oregon man walked out of jail after waiting more than 10 years to be cleared of a murder.
The state Department of Justice dismissed charges Thursday against Samuel Lawson, who had been sentenced to life in prison after a jury convicted him of fatally shooting a man at an Umpqua National Forest campground in 2003.
The Oregon Supreme Court overturned his conviction in November 2012, saying it doubted the reliability of eyewitness testimony provided by the victim's wife.
A county prosecutor planned to retry the 38-year-old man before asking the Department of Justice to take over last month. Without the eyewitness account, the state had no case.
"If we were to uncover additional evidence, we could prosecute him again," agency spokesman Michael Kron said Friday.
Late Thursday afternoon, Lawson left the Douglas County Jail in Roseburg, 175 miles south of Portland. His attorney, Peter Fahy, told the (Roseburg) News-Review that Lawson was immensely gratified.
"I won't go as far as saying he has no anger for losing 10 years of his life, but Sam doesn't have a mean or vindictive bone in his body," Fahy said.
The 2012 Supreme Court decision went beyond overturning Lawson's conviction. The opinion said the standards for the admissibility of eyewitness testimony, established in 1979, must be revised in light of developments in law and scientific research.
In one big change, the burden is now on the state to show the evidence is reliable. The traditional test put the burden on the defendant to show the identification was the product of unduly suggestive procedures.
Noris and Sherl Hilde arrived at their campsite on Aug. 21, 2003, to find Lawson staying in their tent. Lawson apologized, gathered his gear and moved to another campsite.
That evening, Sherl Hilde was shot in the chest with a hunting rifle. Her husband called 911 but was fatally shot during the conversation.
Sherl Hilde couldn't identify Lawson in the weeks after the shootings. Two years later, at trial, she said: "I'll never forget his face as long as I live."
The Supreme Court determined her memory had been influenced by police suggestion.
"It was not until after she had seen a newspaper article with a picture of defendant, and was later brought by police to a preliminary hearing to view the defendant in person, that she was able to identify him," according to the 2012 court opinion.
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