A Texas judge ordered a Dallas man released from prison Thursday, saying recent DNA tests showed he should not have been convicted of sexual assault 25 years ago.
State District Judge Gracie Lewis apologized to Larry Sims, 61, on behalf of the state of Texas.
"I know an apology will not repay you for the time you spent in jail, but I can free you today," Lewis said.
The ruling put Sims closer to joining the ranks of those who have been exonerated in Dallas County because of DNA evidence, but it didn't quite make him a free man. After the hearing, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice required that Sims, who has served 24 years of a 25-year sentence, be supervised and electronically monitored while his case moves forward.
He won't be counted among the exonerated until an appeals court has considered the case and prosecutors have evaluated it further, said his attorney, Michelle Moore.
"It's definitely a case where the state wants to do more investigating before saying he's an innocent man," Moore said.
Smith was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman at a motel party in 1986. The woman testified that she didn't have sex with another man at the party, but the recent test found DNA from that man and not Sims.
In a statement released Thursday, the Dallas County District attorney's office said the fact that the DNA belonged to someone else the woman knew and not to Sims cast doubt on the woman's testimony and backed up that of others. Since the trial outcome was based solely on the credibility of those witnesses, the district attorney agreed with the judge's decision that Sims' conviction wasn't warranted given the evidence.
"We believe in fair trials as guaranteed by the Constitution," District Attorney Craig Watkins said. "In this case, the DNA results show that, at the very least, the defendant did not receive a fair trial."
Sims has maintained his innocence but didn't seek DNA testing until he moved to a halfway house as a parolee last year, said Moore, a Dallas County public defender.
"He didn't trust the system," she said.
TDCJ records show that Sims was released on parole in June 2009 and incarcerated again in October for threatening a halfway house employee.
Seven members of Sims' family attended Thursday's hearing. Ten men who have been exonerated for wrongful convictions in Dallas County also were present.
However, what had been a joyous scene became muted after the TDCJ insisted on restrictions.
"It's a joke that this man could not walk out of the courtroom (without monitoring)," Moore said.
A TDCJ spokesman said regulations require that Sims remain under supervision until the department receives paperwork from a court showing that his sentence has been overturned.