ODESSA, Texas (KMID/KPEJ)- James Harry Reyos was exonerated today more than 40 years after he was convicted of murder by an Ector County Jury. That exoneration comes several months after an Odessa Police Department review of the case and after Reyos spent 20 years in prison.

James Harry Reyos at the exact moment his attorney, Allison Clayton of the Innocence Project of Texas, informed him they think they’ve identified the Rev. Patrick Ryan’s actual killers. Reyos spent 20 years in prison after being convicted in the December 1981 slaying. (Photo Courtesy of Allison Clayton, Innocence Project of Texas

In December of 1981, a Catholic priest named Father Patrick Ryan was murdered at a hotel in Odessa. Reyos was convicted of that crime and sentenced to 38 years in prison. OPD said that conviction was based almost solely on a confession that he provided in New Mexico while he was intoxicated; he later recanted that confession.

In 2021, Police Chief Mike Gerke was alerted about public questions as to Reyos’ guilt and ordered the Odessa Police Department Special Operations Bureau to conduct a review of the case. During the review, investigators developed their own doubts.

A new review of the case revealed evidence that showed that Reyos could not have been present at the crime scene, OPD said in a news release. Using new technology that didn’t exist in 1981, fingerprint cards within the original case file revealed latent fingerprints at the crime scene that did not belong to Reyos. This, coupled with Reyos’ known whereabouts during the murder, he reportedly received a speeding ticket in Roswell around the time that the murder happened, led the investigators to believe that another party (or parties) committed this murder.

According to the Innocence Project of Texas, OPD ran the prints through AFIS, the national fingerprint database and the analysis revealed the identities of Father Ryan’s killers – individuals with criminal histories who were known to be staying at the same motel at the time of the murder.  All of those suspects have since passed away.