June 30, 2017 10:22:24 AM
A man wrongfully convicted for his brother-in-law's murder 14 years ago may still be legally entitled to compensation from the state for time he spent in prison.
A Mississippi State Supreme Court opinion published Thursday ruled 27-year-old Tyler Edmonds, formerly of West Point, had the right to have his pursuit for $200,000 in damages heard in a jury trial, reversing an Oktibbeha County Circuit Court ruling from 2015.
Edmonds was arrested in Oktibbeha County for the 2003 murder of Joey Fulgham. Edmonds, who was 13 at the time, confessed to the murder after several hours of questioning by police and at the urging of his sister, Kristi Fulgham, who was later convicted of the murder.
Initially convicted in 2004, Edmonds spent more than four years in prison before the Supreme Court granted him the right to another trial. An Oktibbeha County jury acquitted him in 2008.
Edmonds sued the state for damages under the Mississippi Wrongful Conviction Statute, which allows wrongfully convicted defendants, under certain circumstances, up to $50,000 per year for the time they were incarcerated. Oktibbeha County Circuit Judge Lee Coleman, however, denied Edmonds' claim on the basis the defendant had fabricated evidence by confessing to the murder.
Edmonds said he had cried upon learning of the Supreme Court's reversal of that decision.
"I've only known for 20 minutes and I'm still soaking it in," he told The Dispatch Thursday.
The opinion is important for more than just Edmonds' case, according to his attorney, Jim Waide of Tupelo. Though the Mississippi Court of Appeals had ruled in a separate case that plaintiffs in wrongful conviction cases had no right to a jury trial, Thursday's Supreme Court ruling set a new precedent.
"A jury trial is absolutely the best protection an ordinary person has against the injustices of the legal system," Waide said.
Edmonds said the court's opinion had been "a long time coming."
"I think that's such an important thing," he said. "... Because it gives a claimant the opportunity to take this out of the court's hands and give it to a jury, and let a third party come in and look at this and decide whether this was right or wrong. That's important for me, and I think it's important for anyone else who, God forbid, may have to go through the same thing."
The opinion also reversed the circuit court's previous ruling that Edmonds was not entitled to compensation because he had confessed to the murder, which the circuit court claimed was fabrication of evidence. The Supreme Court said confessions made under coercion are not considered fabricated evidence, Waide said.
There's no time frame currently on when Edmonds' case will be heard in circuit court again, but Waide said he may consider filing for a change of venue.
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