A man who has maintained his innocence during a 28-year prison sentence for a 1988 murder now faces the prospect of exoneration.
Johnny Small was sentence to life aged 16 in 1989 for the murder of Pam Dreher, according to StarNews.
Dreher’s body was found face down in her pet store in Wilmington, North Carolina, with a gunshot wound to the back of her head.
But now David Bollinger, a key witness at the trial, has admitted he lied.
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Bollinger said at a recent hearing he was forced to testify he was with Small on the day of the murder by Wilmington Police Department Detective James Lightner.
“He told me if I didn't say it [was Johnny] he was going to prosecute me for murder and make sure I got the death penalty,” Bollinger said, according to StarNews.
At the 1989 trial, Bollinger testified that he drove Small to Dreher’s pet shop because he wanted to use a pay phone. He added that Small came out of the store 10 minutes later wearing a different shirt. Bollinger also informed the jury that Small held a gun to his head and threatened to kill him if he told anyone.
But Bollinger stated in court Aug. 8 that he wasn’t even with Small when the murder happened.
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“They questioned and interrogated me one night, and the rest of the time it was coaching -- telling me what to say,” Bollinger said during cross examination. “Everything was orchestrated. I knew nothing of the details.”
The motion to exonerate Small was filed by the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence. It argued that there was no physical evidence linking Small to the murder and that Bollinger had been encouraged to testify when police told him Small would be out of jail by 21 because he was a juvenile.
“There is more than a reasonable possibility that had Bollinger's testimony not been admitted at Small's trial, a different result would have been reached,” stated the motion, reports StarNews.
On the first day of the hearing, Small testified that he had tried to get parole from prison but was repeatedly denied, WWAY reported.
The hearing on Small’s case is continuing.