From a Prison Cell to Center Court

Exonerated Texas inmate coaches NCAA basketball game

After spending 16 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Patrick Waller is making the most of his newfound freedom.

Waller, now a criminal justice student at the University of Texas at Arlington, was asked to guest coach the men’s basketball team Wednesday night.

In the locker room before the game against McNeese State, Waller told the team, "I fought an opponent much bigger and much tougher than the one you are facing tonight."

Waller was released from prison in July after DNA evidence cleared him of a kidnapping, robbery and rape he was serving a life sentence for.

"I always pictured what I would do when I got out," Waller said. "But coaching a basketball game -- oh man." 

One of the things he learned in prison and stressed to his team was the importance of a good defense.

Two of Waller’s criminal defense attorneys were by his side for his coaching debut.

"Patrick is a great guy," said attorney and criminal justice professor John Stickels. "He fought many hard battles, and we are glad he is in school here at UTA."

Waller, who had never used a cell phone before when he was freed in July, now has a Bluetooth clipped to his ear.

"He is so excited about this," his mother, Patricia Cunningham, said. "He’s been calling me and calling me telling me to hurry up and get here. I’m here, and I am very proud of him."

And it seems Waller made for a pretty good basketball coach: UTA beat McNeese State 78-59. 

Contact Us