Reyos exonerated in priest’s 40 Year old Odessa murder case
ODESSA, Texas (KOSA) - According to The Innocence Project, James Reyos was declared innocent by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in a case that is over 40 years old.
Reyos was convicted in 1983 for the murder of Father Patrick Ryan and was sentenced to 38 years in prison. The Innocence Project says the court’s decision to exonerate Mr. Reyos was based on recently discovered fingerprint evidence that found the real perpetrators and evidence that he was in New Mexico at the time of the murder.
“We are grateful for the court’s swift action on this case. James has been living with this burden for more than 40 years and his name has finally been cleared,” said Allison Clayton, Deputy Director of Innocence Project of Texas, and Reyos’ attorney. “We want to thank the Odessa Police Department and Ector County District Attorney’s Office for their cooperation. This case is a testament to what can happen when everyone works together for justice.”
A Press Release from the Innocence Project of Texas goes on to give the background of the case:
On Dec. 21, 1981, Father Patrick Ryan was found murdered in a motel room in Odessa, Texas. During the initial investigation, the police interviewed James Reyos, who was the last known person to see Father Ryan alive. Mr. Reyos established through multiple witnesses, store receipts, and even a speeding ticket, that he was in New Mexico at the time of the murder. Texas Rangers verified the information and ruled him out as a suspect.
A year later, while heavily intoxicated on drugs and alcohol, Mr. Reyos called 911 and confessed to the murder. Once he was arrested, Mr. Reyos immediately recanted. The State indicted and tried Mr. Reyos for Father Ryan’s murder. In addition to the confession, the prosecution focused extensively on Mr. Reyos’ Apache Native American race and the fact that he was gay. Even though no one disputed that it was physically impossible for Mr. Reyos to have committed the crime and no evidence linked him to the crime scene, he was found guilty. Jurors at the time said their decision was based on the confession and on Mr. Reyos’ “characteristics.”
Mr. Reyos served 20 years in prison and was initially released in 2004. Despite significant support from attorneys, legal scholars and legislators who believed he was wrongly convicted, there was not a legal path forward to prove Mr. Reyos’ innocence because all evidence from the case was thought to have been destroyed. In 2022, members of the Odessa Police Department discovered fingerprints in their archived files that had been taken from the crime scene and from Father Ryan’s stolen car and wallet. OPD ran the prints through AFIS, the national fingerprint database, and performed their own comparison. The analysis found the identities of Father Ryan’s killers - All of the found perpetrators have since passed away.
“I am so grateful to Innocence Project of Texas for this day. I want this to serve as hope to the people of Texas that justice can prevail,” said Mr. Reyos on hearing the court’s decision. Reyos, whose father passed while he was in prison, tearfully shared “My father told me to never give up and I never did.”
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