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Oklahoma Prisoner Uses COVID-19 Stimulus Check to Overturn Conviction

In June 2023, a judge in Oklahoma’s Sequoyah County overturned the murder conviction of Ricky Dority, 65, after the state prisoner spent his COVID-19 stimulus check to hire a private investigator, who then got a key witness to recant his trial testimony. After that, Dority walked out of Joseph Harp Correctional Center a free man.

Dority spent 24 years in prison, most for a federal conviction on a felon-in-possession charge. He was in federal prison in Texas in 2014, when Sequoyah County prosecutors reopened the 1997 cold-case murder of Mitchell Nixon, 28. They obtained a guilty plea to manslaughter from Rex Robbins, who fingered Dority as the meth-addled killer in a robbery that went south. Even though Dority had been elsewhere arrested on a different charge on the day of the killing, “they tried me for it and found me guilty of it,” he said. The state Court of Criminal Appeals upheld his conviction in 2017.

Three years later, Dority took his COVID-19 stimulus check and bypassed the canteen where many prisoners spent the funds, using it to hire private investigator Bobby Staton. Along with Oklahoma Innocence Project law student Abby Brawner, he went to Oklahoma State Reformatory and visited Robbins, who recanted his testimony. They also discovered that another police informant, who testified at trial to seeing Dority in bloody clothes the night of Nixon’s murder, didn’t even live at the home. Hearing the real homeowner’s testimony, the court tossed Dority’s conviction, finding he suffered ineffective assistance of counsel from attorneys who failed to make the discovery before his trial.

“If they hadn’t gotten me out,” Dority said of Staton and Brawner, “I’d have been in there for the rest of my life.”

Assistant District Attorney James Dunn decided not to retry the case, saying that “[t]he last thing I want to see is an innocent person in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.”

“Because that means the person who actually did commit the crime, or those persons, are still out there,” he added.  


Sources: KHBS, KOTV, NBC News

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