In 1991, the now-48-year-old Atchison was convicted of fatally shooting James Lane the previous summer, during a robbery gone bad. He was sentenced to life in prison. But District Judge Sharon Holmes reversed his sentence nearly three decades later, arguing Atchison’s case was tarnished by a “fundamental miscarriage of justice.”
According to The Washington Post, Atchison maintained his innocence during the 1991 trial. And his case was only bolstered by the fact a witness who testified on his behalf claimed he was coerced into implicating Atchison.
Nevertheless, in 1994, the Oklahoma Court of Appeals upheld Atchison’s conviction.
Holmes also overturned the wrongful conviction of a man named Malcom Scott in 2016, declaring him “actually innocent” of a 1994 fatal drive-by shooting for which he and De’Marchoe Carpenter were convicted at just 18 years old, according to Tulsa World . Both men had been sentenced to life plus 170 years.
Eric Cullen, a private investigator, started looking into Atchison’s case following Scott’s release. Not long into his search, Cullen found testimony from a witness who claimed during court proceedings that prosecutors bullied him into implicating Atchison. The judge at the time, though, allowed the trial to continue uninterrupted.
“I’ve done this a long time,” Cullen told the Post. “I’ve never heard of this or seen that. On the record, in 1991, a 15 year old standing up to an extremely aggressive DA who had just bullied him in the hallway.”
Both that man as well as a key eyewitness signed affidavits for Cullen and Atchison’s attorney. The latter recanted his previous testimony entirely, claiming he falsely implicated Atchison because of unrelated disagreements between the two men.
“This court thinks the purported eyewitnesses who were used were coerced,” Holmes said. “Without those witnesses, I don’t think a jury would have found Tim Harris, who was serving as district attorney during the time of Atchison’s prosecution, rebuffed Holmes’ decision and called claims of witness coercion “absurd.”
As for Atchison, he is learning what it’s like to live free again.
“I don’t really know what I want to do,” he said, “because my goal all these years was just to be free.”
In the meantime, he plans to spend his days with his daughter, who was born three months after Atchison was arrested, and his now-10-year-old grandson.
“Me and you,” his grandson told his grandfather. “Against the world,” added Atchison.