Walter Roy said he was innocent in 1995 when he was arrested and charged with a gang shooting at Fort Worth's Echo Park. Now, 24 years after his 1998 conviction and life sentence, Roy said he finally feels like somebody listened.
Roy's sentence was reduced Tuesday to time served after the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office said a conviction integrity review found that witnesses lied at his trial. In 1998, Roy was convicted of engaging in organized criminal activity and attempted murder.
The conviction integrity review found that Roy was not innocent of involvement in the 1995 incident in Echo Park in Fort Worth but that he didn't fire a gun, according to the DA's office. Police found the gun used in the shooting in a drainage ditch and arrested Roy. Testimony that Roy was the shooter contributed to his conviction, according to the DA's office, but the conviction integrity review revealed that testimony to be false.
Roy told the Star-Telegram on Wednesday that he rode with a friend to Echo Park in 1995. Roy knew his friend dealt drugs, but he said neither of them was involved in any of the violence at Echo Park.
When they got to the park, someone came out of the restroom and started shooting, he said. Roy said he stopped the shooter and that police and the DA's office knew that, but he was arrested as the gunman anyway.
Roy, now 45, says the re-sentencing to time served is an improvement, but in his eyes it isn't justice. Witnesses testified at his trial that he shot at people during a drug deal gone wrong, but Roy says he was actually the one who stopped the shooter.
Steven Conder, the head of the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office Conviction Integrity Unit, said that because Roy was a part of a gang and was at the park for related activity, the review wasn't a question of innocence or guilt. Under Texas law, Conder said that because Roy was involved in the activities that led up to the shooting, he is considered a guilty party.
Conder said that in the review, his investigators found that Roy knew about a drug deal, knew at least one person was armed and was a party to the criminal activity as a member of a gang but wasn't one of the people armed and wasn't the person who fired the gun.
The question in the conviction integrity review was whether or not Roy was sentenced correctly, Conder said. Because the judge who sentenced him noted the belief that Roy fired the gun, as witnesses falsely testified, Conder said the correct sentence for involvement in the shooting should have been closer to the time he's already served.
Roy said just because his sentence has been changed to time served doesn't mean he's done fighting. He's talking with attorneys to see what his next steps are. He wants the crimes taken off his record and wants to see the district attorney's office held accountable for what he said is a wrongful conviction.
He said he doesn't care about the money he would get from compensation if it were determined he was wrongfully convicted so much as he cares about seeing the government held accountable.
"Do I want to be compensated and do the right thing? Yeah, because they need to be held accountable," Roy said. "We are held accountable. They need to be held accountable, too. But the money isn't my goal."
Conder said that the review did do justice under Texas law.
"The fact that the judge took into consideration the assertion that he was the shooter, in assessing the sentencing, we felt like the sentencing needed to be reconsidered," Conder said. "Had the judge known that he was the party and not the shooter, the judge probably would have given him the time he's already served."
Making a positive impact
Outside of his work to get his name cleared, Roy said he's working with VIP FW, an anti-violence program modeled after one in Richmond, California, which uses ex-convicts instead of police to intervene and mediate conflicts. He said that while he is innocent of the shooting at Echo Park in 1995, he was immature and associating with the wrong people.
He wants to use his experiences in jail and the ways he's learned and grown more mature to help young people who aren't bad but might be in a similar situation, spending time with people or in situations that could get them hurt or into trouble.
"I'm not a negative person and I wasn't a bad person then. I was just immature," Roy said. "Working with VIP, we have to try to keep these little youngsters doing the right thing."
Roy said he's thankful for the fact that he's made it out of prison, but wonders how many innocent people die in jail because of a wrongful conviction or oversentencing.
He said he's looking for lawyers and other experts who can help him lobby for legislation and justice reforms that could prevent something like this from happening again in the future.