After nearly 40 years in prison for a series of crimes he did not commit, GIP client Terry Talley walked out of prison a free man on February 23, 2021. Once labeled a serial rapist, now he is exonerated in not one, but four violent sexual assaults that occurred from February through June 1981 in LaGrange, Georgia. A fifth case is still under review for exoneration.
Terry was welcomed into the loving arms of his mother, sisters, and multiple family members, who have not seen him free since he left for a police interview almost 40 years ago. Emotionally overwhelmed, Terry said, “Today is such a blessing. Words can’t describe how it feels to finally be free after all these years, I’m so thankful for my family, who kept me going all this time, and for the Georgia Innocence Project, who never gave up.”
Terry’s wrongful conviction story is too long to fully explain in a blog, but you can learn more here.
These four exonerations are the result of more than a decade of work by GIP staff, interns, and volunteers, as well as a multi-year collaboration with the LaGrange Police Department. In 2009, GIP secured DNA testing on a rape kit in one of the cases, which excluded Terry as the source of the biological evidence in that case. That conviction was vacated, but the underlying indictment was not dismissed, plus Terry remained in prison on the other serial rape crimes – stymied by lost evidence and shifting state theories.
“How does an innocent Black man get convicted of a series of brutally violent crimes that he did not commit? The answer lies in the power of unreliable eyewitness identification, a blinding determination by the State to convict, and systemic racial bias. Add to that an under-resourced public defender system, set in the 1980s Deep South, and you have an infallible recipe for wrongful conviction.”Clare Gilbert, Executive Director
In 2018 and 2019, thanks to increased funding enabling us to hire attorneys, an investigator, and a case analyst, we’ve been able to dedicate additional resources needed to revive the investigations, conduct additional witness interviews, and uncover new evidence. With support from LaGrange Police Chief Louis Dekmar, GIP presented the new information and Terry’s renewed case for innocence to Coweta Judicial Circuit DA Herb Cranford, Jr. DA Cranford, even while continuing to review the fifth case for exoneration, agreed Terry never should have been convicted in the first place, and should be immediately exonerated and freed on the first four sexual assaults.
There are many lessons to be learned from Terry’s case, and we’ll write more about that soon. But today, we celebrate! Members of the GIP team, including Terry’s attorney Jennifer Whitfield, were present at the prison to welcome Terry into freedom. They sang power ballads together on the long drive from the prison to Terry’s home in LaGrange. That Monday, we had a video call with Terry where he met the full GIP team and several other exonerees.
We are deeply grateful to you, and all of GIP’s friends and supporters, for helping to bring Terry Talley home. We could not do this work without you. THANK YOU.