|Updated: 7/19/2012 6:02 pm
||Published: 7/19/2012 9:24 am
A Tulsa judge exonerated a man convicted of a 1995 burglary and armed robbery in east Tulsa.
DNA testing of evidence has excluded Sedrick Courtney as a suspect in the crime. Courtney served 16 years for the crime, but has maintained his innocence.
"We are grateful for District Attorney Tim Harris' help in quickly bringing an end to the terrible injustice faced by Mr. Courtney," said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “Mr. Courtney was able to get the DNA testing that has cleared his name. Undoubtedly there are many others who have not been so fortunate because Oklahoma has the unfortunate distinction of being the only state in the nation that doesn't have a DNA testing law. Hopefully this horrible miscarriage of justice will spur state lawmakers to do the right thing and make it easier for those who have been wrongly convicted to get access to the DNA testing that can clear their names.”
A jury convicted Courtney in 1996 based on the testimony of a hair analyst who said Courtney’s hair matched hair found in a ski mask at the scene of a burglary and robbery at the home of Shemita Green.
Courtney was paroled in 2011, but worked with the Innocence Project to clear his name. TPD told lawyers the evidence was destroyed but it was located and given to Courtney’s lawyers for testing in 2011. That testing proved Courtney's innocence.
After Tulsa County Judge William Kellough issued his ruling vacating Courtney's conviction, the newly vindicated man had a giant smile on his face as he hugged friends in family outside the courtroom.
"I wanted to cry," Courtney said. "But I didn't."
"I can't find the word to describe it, but it's great."
He and his family were overflowing with joy, despite 16 long years wasted behind bars.
"It was very frustrating at times, but with the grace of God I got by," he said.
He said it was his dedicated faith in God that carried him through the long, torturous wait for the truth to come out.
"I'm still just like I was from day one," he said. "I was upset and hurt from the beginning, but I knew that God knew the truth. So I was OK with it."
For those 16 years he missed out on the life he should have had.
"When I left I had babies. And when I got home my babies had babies. So I missed a lot."
Despite being released on parole in June of 2011 and meeting his wife soon after, life didn't get much easier outside prison walls.
"Just the simple things: filling out an application and saying 'yes, I have no work experience, I have nothing to say that I've done,'" Courtney's wife Tina said. "That was very difficult."
But throughout his difficult journey both in and then after prison Courtney has refused to be bitter, angry or resentful.
"He's amazing," Tina said. "He helps people. He helps other teenagers that don't have dads. We go play basketball with them on Sundays. And just, you know, he wants to be there for people who need people."
Courtney said it's an attitude he chose to have early on in his incarceration.
"It gave me a lot of time to think about, you know, a lot of mistakes I have made in my life and things I want to change and be a better person in society," he said.
Now that DNA proof has cleared his name, the soft-spoken, humble man said he plans to take advantage of his long overdue freedom.
"[I plan] to enjoy life," he said.
"Set a better example for my family and my kids and grandkids."