MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana man whose murder conviction was overturned after he spent 23 years in prison says he harbors no anger toward those who put him in prison, but he’d like to find his daughters.
“My wife died since I was in prison, my mom died since I was in prison, both my daughters were adopted out and I lost my parental rights while I was in prison,” Freddie Joe Lawrence said at a news conference at the Montana Innocence Project’s office on Thursday. “I have no idea where my daughters are. If anybody can help me find them I’d appreciate that.”
Lawrence and co-defendant Paul Jenkins were convicted in the 1994 death of Donna Meagher, who was kidnapped from a family-owned casino in Montana City and killed west of Helena.
District Judge Kathy Seeley overturned the convictions last week after recent tests determined DNA on a rope found at the murder scene matched a convicted killer, David Wayne Nelson. Nelson is serving a life sentence for killing a man and his mother in Deer Lodge in October 2015.
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Lawrence, 56, and Jenkins, 64, were released from custody on Tuesday. Jenkins did not speak at Thursday’s news conference.
Jenkins said he was happy to be out of prison, but was also a bit scared. Life on the outside is a big adjustment, he said, including learning how to operate a cellphone.
“I got in a car yesterday and didn’t have my seat belt on and things started beeping,” he said, grinning, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
He expressed empathy for Meagher’s family and refused to blame anyone involved in the case, including the lead prosecutor, Mike McGrath, who is now the chief justice of the Montana Supreme Court.
“I hate to cast aspersions, but the law enforcement officials back then were a lot different than they are today. I’ll just leave it at that,” Lawrence said.
The attorney general’s office is deciding whether to re-file the charges against Lawrence and Jenkins. Nelson is considered a suspect but hasn’t been charged.
Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com