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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Ex-Texas death row inmate freed; AG drops charges

The AP reports that a person who was on Texas Death Row has been released and the charges dropped:

An inmate once on death row in Texas was a free man Thursday, nine months after his conviction was overturned in the 1985 bombing deaths of three people on Thanksgiving.

The Texas attorney general's office dropped the charges against Michael Roy Toney, 43, on Wednesday and that night he was released from the Tarrant County Jail in Fort Worth, officials said. His release came a day before the attorney general had to declare whether the state would again seek the death penalty in the case.

State prosecutor Adrienne McFarland said in a dismissal motion that there was not enough time to complete an independent investigation before the Thursday deadline. The state can refile charges against Toney in the killings if the investigation warrants it.

In a statement released Thursday through his attorney, Toney thanked his friends, family and lawyers for their support.

"I have said all along that I was innocent of these charges and I know that when the Attorney General reviews the evidence, it will show that I am indeed innocent," he said.

Toney was convicted of a 1985 Thanksgiving night bombing. Fifteen-year-old Angela Blount found a suitcase on the porch, took it inside and opened it. A bomb exploded, killing her; her father, Joe Blount, 44; and her cousin Michael Columbus, 18. Her mother and 14-year-old brother survived.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in December that the lead prosecutor withheld evidence that could have helped Toney during his 1999 trial, an assertion that the district attorney's office never disputed.

In January, the District Attorney's office recused itself from the case "to avoid the appearance of impropriety," said District Attorney Joe Shannon.

The attorney general's office then took over and reopened an investigation.

Toney remained in jail until Wednesday because charges were still pending. He also had to post $25,000 bail on an unrelated charge out of Polk County because he allegedly had a cell phone on death row.

Toney's attorney Colleen Kennedy said in a statement that her client is "grateful ... that while the investigation is under way, the Attorney General's office has agreed to grant Mr. Toney his freedom."

"The extensive post-conviction investigations undertaken by Mr. Toney's defense team have produced overwhelming evidence that he was both wrongfully convicted and wrongly sentenced to death in this case," Kennedy said.

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