Terry Olson Goes Home After 10 Years in Prison Based on Another Man’s False Confession

09.14.16 By Innocence Staff

Terry Olson Goes Home After 10 Years in Prison Based on Another Man’s False Confession

On Tuesday, Terry Olson was released from prison in Minnesota after spending 10 years locked up for a murder that he and his attorneys at the Innocence Project of Minnesota insist he did not commit.

In 2007, Olson was convicted of killing Jeff Hammill, whose body was found on the side of a road outside Buffalo, Minnesota, in 1979.  For years after the crime, the case was closed. Police conducted dozens of interviews but had no solid leads.

According to the Innocence Project of Minnesota, Olson became a suspect only when Dale Todd, a man with mental health issues, made a confession to the police in which he implicated Olson and another man, Ron Michaels, 23 years after the crime occurred.

In 2006, Michaels was tried but acquitted after Todd testified that he’d been coerced by police to implicate both Michaels and Olson in the crime. Sadly, Olson did not have the same good fortune. At his 2007 trial, not only did Olson receive inadequate representation from his public defender, but Todd once again testified that Olson was party to Hammill’s murder, only to recant soon after in a letter to Olson. By that point, however, Olson had been convicted and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Olson started working with the Innocence Project of Minnesota after the project received a letter from Todd in 2012. He wrote that he, Olson and Michaels were all innocent of Hammill’s murder and needed help. Yesterday, Olson was finally granted relief. He was released from prison and reunited with his family.

While the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that Olson’s case was compelling and unfair, it refused to grant a new trial on the grounds that it did not find “legal error.” Ultimately, the Wright County Attorney’s Office agreed to petition for Olson’s immediate release if he agreed to have his federal habeas case dismissed. Given that Olson has never wavered in his innocence, says his attorneys, the decision was a challenging one but the best one that he could make in order to once again be home with his family.

Related: Experts Discuss Eyewitness Misidentification on Minnesota Public Radio



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Philippa Lyon March 16, 2017 at 10:42 am Reply   

Can I ask what is difficult about going through the admissibility issues in each stage of the conviction to affirm the basis of charge in terms of legality and therefore reaffirm the legal process in normal terms of rights for someone falsely charged, tried and convicted, and does it need to be proven beyond reasonable doubt or absolutely?

David Schultz November 5, 2016 at 8:11 pm Reply   

By agreeing to accept his immediate release from prison Olson was required to dismiss his Habeas Corpus action in federal court. This meant that he would never obtain a judicial finding on his claim of actual innocence and, as a result, would be highly unlikely to be able to obtain compensation under the Minnesota Wrongful Conviction compensation statute. As part of his deal Olson was also required to sign a release agreeing to forgo any lawsuit/claim he might have against Wright County for violation of his Constitutional rights. As you might imagine, this was a very difficult decision for Mr. Olson – especially the part about never receiving a judicial determination of his claim of actual innocence by the federal court. (By the way, this reply is written by Terry Olson’s attorney).

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