Dallas man freed after 31 years in prison for rape, prosecution error cited

Rickey Wyatt upon his release
CBS Dallas

(CBS) DALLAS - A Dallas man who spent 31 years behind bars proclaiming his innocence in a sexual assault conviction has been set free by a judge who apologized. 

CBS Dallas reports Rickey Dale Wyatt was released by a judge Wednesday who recommended his 1981 conviction be set aside.

The Dallas County District Attorney's Office presented evidence they said the original prosecutors in the case withheld, including evidence showing Wyatt did not match the victim's initial description of her attacker.

The Dallas Morning News reports Wyatt was 5-feet-6 and 135 pounds when he was arrested. But he was convicted of an aggravated sexual assault committed by a man described as 6 inches taller and 65 pounds heavier.

Wyatt's attorneys with the Innocence Project in New York found that evidence withheld in his case likely would have acquitted him. They say the evidence proves what Wyatt has said for 31 years: He was too small to be the rapist.

"I'll send these findings to the Court of Criminal Appeals and I'm also going to grant a motion for you to get out of jail today," Judge John Creuzot told the courtroom.

"You're free to go," Creuzot said as the courtroom erupted in applause. "I apologize for all this."

The 56-year-old Wyatt has always maintained his innocence and said he was able to deal with the years in prison with "belief in God that I will overcome this. This is a learning experience ya know." He had been serving a 99-year-prison term.

Dallas attorney Dough Fletcher said he's offended by the DA's suggestion that evidence was withheld that could have helped Wyatt's defense.

"Any allegations of prosecutorial misconduct involving Mr. [James] Fry or myself are total nonsense. The atmosphere for that just didn't exist down there at that time. It's certainly unfair. These were men and women of the highest integrity," he said.

"We've established that there should be at a minimum a new trial and at a maximum a dismissal," said prosecutor Russell Wilson. "I think ultimately we will be able to reach an agreement that dismisses the case," he said.

Wyatt is simply happy to be free and said one of the first things he would like to do is go fishing and spend time with his daughter, who was only three-years-old when he went to jail.

He met his granddaughter for the first time Wednesday.