DALLAS — A man held for 27 years in a 1980 homicide was released Tuesday after a court hearing.
James Lee Woodard, 55, is the longest serving inmate in the United States to be released as a result of DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project of Texas, and the 17th person in Dallas County to be cleared through DNA testing since 2001.
Woodard was arrested on New Year's Day 1981 and charged with the murder of Beverly Jones, 18, a woman he had dated whose body was found in the Trinity River bottoms in south Dallas. She had been sexually assaulted and killed on or about Dec. 29, 1980, records show. He immediately became a suspect after Jones' stepfather said Woodard had come to their home in the early morning of Dec. 29. Neighbors said they had heard the couple fighting. But there was no evidence that Jones had been in Woodard's car or that the car had been in the muddy Trinity River bottoms. He gave the police a list of witnesses who confirmed his whereabouts at the time of the slaying.
Several days before Woodard went on trial, authorities learned of three other witnesses who saw Jones shortly before she died and who told investigators she had gotten into a car with several men at a 7-Eleven. James Woodard's defense attorney wasn't told about the other witnesses until after his client received a life sentence in May 1981 for a conviction based largely on circumstantial evidence.
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