Last summer, a man won freedom after spending a decade on death row in Texas for a crime he says he didn’t commit. But seven months out, his fate continues to hang in the balance, as a new investigation into the case remains ongoing.
Alfred Dewayne Brown – known as Dewayne to his family – was released from prison in June after prosecutors dismissed charges against him, following revelations of key evidence withheld in the case. Brown on Wednesday spoke to MSNBC in an exclusive interview – his first on television – about life on death row.
“I didn’t let myself think like that, that I was gonna die,” Brown told MSNBC. “I was thinking that I was gonna go home.”
Brown was sentenced to death in 2005 for the armed robbery of a check-cashing business that ended in the murder of the store clerk and a Houston police officer on April 5, 2003. At trial, Brown’s attorney said Brown had been at his girlfriend’s apartment at the time. Jurors were told that Brown called his girlfriend from the apartment after he saw reports of the shooting, but telephone records, which would have supported Brown’s alibi, were never found.
In 2013, a Houston homicide detective discovered the phone records in a box of documents while cleaning his garage. The records show a phone call from the apartment’s land line that day around the time of the murders. According to the Houston Chronicle, the district attorney’s office sent the phone records to Brown’s attorneys, and agreed to a new trial.
In order to clear the way for a new trial, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals reviewed Brown’s case, and in November 2014 an order was issued throwing out Brown’s 2005 conviction and death sentence. As prosecutors prepared a new trial, they determined they didn’t have enough evidence – and dropped the charges against Brown.
On June 8, Brown walked out of prison a free man.
Brown told MSNBC that during his time behind bars, he taught himself how to read, draw, corresponded overseas with pen pals, and even practiced yoga in his cell.
“Have you ever seen a person who is claustrophobic and you put em in a closet. That’s what it’s like … If you don’t get control of it right then you’re going to be forever messed up.”
Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said during a press conference on the day of Brown’s release that they had come up short. “We re-interviewed all the witnesses. We looked at all the evidence and we’re coming up short,” Anderson said, according to the Houston Chronicle. “We cannot prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt, therefore the law demands that I dismiss this case and release Mr. Brown.”
However, the case remains an open investigation, and according to the Chronicle, law enforcement officials have said they continue to suspect Brown is guilty.
“I’m convinced that this is the person that we need to focus on,” Houston Police Chief Charles Mclelland told reporters after Anderson, the DA, announced she would dismiss Brown’s case.
It is not clear if prosecutors plan to re-charge Brown.
MSNBC’s reporting comes as the popular Netflix series “Making a Murderer” entrances viewers with its examination of the case of a Wisconsin man serving a life sentence for a murder more than 10 years ago. The series has inspired a discussion about the criminal justice system, and has raised questions about the man’s guilt.
Brown’s journey from death row was covered in detail by Houston Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg, who won a Pulitzer Prize last year for her coverage of Brown’s story. The Chronicle’s reporting also pointed to problems with the Texas grand jury system. Citing a transcript of the girlfriend’s 2003 grand jury testimony, which was entered into the public record by attorneys for Brown, the Chronicle reports that grand jurors pressured Brown’s girlfriend into testifying against him.
Reached by MSNBC on Wednesday, the Harris County District Attorney’s office said it had no comment on Brown’s case. The Houston Police Department, also reached by MSNBC, declined to comment.
In the meantime, Brown remains free after prosecutors dismissed the charges.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Brown is among six death row inmates freed from death row during 2015.
The group, which tracks death penalty convictions, says more than 150 people have been released from death row since 1973 on evidence of their innocence. (A 1972 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court halted executions; a separate decision in 1976 reinstated executions.)
Even after spending 10 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit, Brown is not angry or bitter.
“I wake up every day and am happy,” Brown said. “I get to smell odors and it’s not another inmate, and I get to smell food cooking on the stove and it’s not Ramen noodles.”
-MSNBC’s Emily Drew contributed to this report.