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.