LUBBOCK, Texas (KMID/KPEJ)- James Reyos, a client of Texas Tech University’s Innocence Clinic, part of the Innocence Project of Texas and the clinical programs at Texas Tech’s School of Law, was exonerated by the Criminal Court of Appeals of Texas Wednesday earlier this week but still faces a long legal battle.

In 1983, Reyos was convicted of murdering Catholic priest Patrick Ryan despite a case that had no physical evidence linking him to the crime. The Odessa Police Department later said the conviction hinged, in part, on a drunken confession that Reyos later recanted. He was sentenced to 38 years in prison.

Reyos spent decades incarcerated, consistently proclaiming his innocence even after he was released on parole. 

The exoneration came after OPD Chief Mike Gerke asked investigators to take another look at the case. Beyond that, the case was also brought to Allison Clayton, School of Law clinical fellow and director of the Innocence Clinic, by Greg Barber. Barber was a prosecutor with Ector County and he, along with his office, had done significant groundwork on the case and believed Reyos could be exonerated.

  • James Harry Reyos at the exact moment his attorney, Allison Clayton of the Innocence Project of Texas, informs 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

“After Greg reached out to me, I knew that James’s case would be perfect for the Innocence Clinic,” Clayton said. “Because James is free world, meaning on parole, it would be easier to access him. The vast majority of our clients are incarcerated, and Texas prisons can unexpectedly go on lockdown at any time, making visitation impossible. But an important part of the clinic is working with our clients – not just understanding their cases but building a genuine relationship with them.”

Because of the limited remaining evidence in the case, the Innocence Clinic’s work to file a petition and begin litigation took only six months. The trial court then set a hearing, which took place this summer. That hearing took only a day and the judge recommended relief for Reyos.

The case was then forwarded to the Court of Criminal Appeals for Texas, which passed down Wednesday’s ruling.

The exoneration of Reyos means he now will have his rights restored. He is free to leave the state and is no longer considered a convicted murderer. 

Despite Wednesday’s ruling, Clayton and the Innocence Clinic still have work to do for Reyos. 

“Technically, James is still facing indictment, so we have to get the district attorney’s office to file a motion to dismiss that indictment and convince the trial judge to grant it,” Clayton said. “Then, we have to file the paperwork to get James compensated for all those years he has lost.”

The Innocence Clinic said it estimates that Reyos is owed about seven figures for all he’s lost since his wrongful conviction.