On Tuesday, Oct. 10, after DNA testing proved his innocence, Pontotoc County District Judge Steven Kessinger exonerated 61-year-old Perry Lott, who spent 35 years in prison, Yahoo! News reported.
“I have never lost hope that this day would come,” Lott said. “I had faith that the truth would prevail, even after 35 long years. I can finally shut this door and move on with my life.”
Lott, who was arrested in 1987, was released in 2018 after the Innocence Project worked to reopen his case. After ordering a post-conviction DNA test from the rape kit, the Oklahoma man was freed; however, District Attorney Paul Smith denied Lott’s request to vacate his conviction. In January 2023, a new District Attorney was appointed, and the Innocence Project tried their luck with an appeal.
The newly elected DA, Erik Johnson, agreed that Lott’s conviction should be vacated; allowing him to seek up to $175,000 in compensation from Oklahoma, according to the state’s laws.
“Five years ago, all evidence pointed to his innocence, but he was denied justice,” Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Adnan Sultan said. “We are grateful to District Attorney Erik Johnson for his commitment to righting this wrong.”
For Lott, the years cannot be replaced; however, his new lease on life has given him a restored sense of hope for himself and others.
“I feel like I’m reborn. I feel like everything is new, especially my opportunities,” he said. “No more walls. That’s a wonderful feeling. And I think the entire state is catching on to removing all those walls and barriers that stop people from being people.”
Lott’s conviction is not the only one that Pontotoc County has had to make amends for. In 1985, Karl Allen Fontenot and Tommy Ward were sentenced to death for the kidnapping and murder of Donna Denice Haraway, a newly married college student and store clerk. In 2020, Fontenot’s conviction was overturned due to evidence of his alibi as well as other potential suspects the judge found to be “solid proof” of his “probable innocence.” A federal appeals court agreed with the judge. Fontenot has remained free since 2019.
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