After spending 31 years in prison, Ricky Dale Wyatt walked out of the Frank Crowley courts Building in Downtown Dallas on Wednesday a free man.
Wyatt, now 56, was just 25 years old when he was convicted of aggravated sexual assault in 1981 and sentenced to 99 years in prison.
At the time, Wyatt and his attorneys said he was innocent, saying Wyatt did not match the physical description of the suspect. They said Wyatt he had facial hair and did not weigh as much as the attacker.
Prosecutors had evidence to support it, but suppressed it during Wyatt’s trial.
This year, two groups, including the Conviction Integrity Unit at the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office and the Innocence Project based out of New York, teamed up to uncover that old evidence.
Dallas County Judge John Creuzot on Wednesday decided the evidence was substantial enough to vacate Wyatt’s conviction.
“Mr. Wyatt, it’s been a long time -- 31 years,” Creuzot said to Wyatt during Wednesday’s hearing.
Shortly after that, Creuzot announced Wyatt was free to leave. The packed courtroom errupted into cheers.
“I feel like I’m about to faint now! It’s really special,” said Wyatt’s daughter, Kim Hill.
“I’m so glad this is over. My life has been a total wreck without my father. I’m glad he’s back,” she said.
Wyatt said he had faith one day he would be released from prison.
“Yes I did -- always knew it would come. God is good, you know? In the end he’s going to show,” Wyatt said.
Although Wyatt is free from prison, he still has not been declared an innocent man.
It will be up to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to throw out the case. There is also a small chance it could still go to trial again.
Wyatt’s attorneys said there is no decision yet on what will happen.
Wyatt said for now, he’s going to enjoy his new life.
“Well, I’m going to go fishing, barbeque, be with my granddaughter and daughter and associate with my friends. See what we got for the future,” he said.
After taking office, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins instituted an open file policy for reviewing claims of wrongful convictions.