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Texas man jailed for crime he didn't commit is free at last

Walter Roy was in jail for nearly three decades for a crime he didn't commit. After a punishment hearing on Tuesday, he is finally free.

TARRANT COUNTY, Texas — When Walter Roy walked out of the Tarrant County Courtroom, he can now officially say "free at last."  

"I kept hope. I kept faith and just kept trusting God," said Roy. 

The now 46-year-old also trusted his court-appointed attorney Mark Lassiter, who started fighting for his freedom. 

Roy, whose real name is Eddie Drisdle, had already spent almost half his life behind bars for a crime he didn't commit. He spent 26 years declaring his innocence while listening to other prisoners also tell their stories about being wrongfully convicted. 

Previous coverage: Watch: North Texas man, wife learns that he's not returning to prison for crime he didn't commit

"Two of my sons were born when I was in prison. And so, so I was out of their life for 26 years," said Roy. 

In 1995, Roy went to Echo Lake Park with two other men for an alleged drug deal that ended in gunfire.

Police arrested Roy, who was convicted on attempted murder charges. After 26 years behind bars, he told WFAA TV his accomplice was the person who brought a gun with him to the park.  

"So, while he's shooting, I stopped him from shooting because ain't nobody pulled no weapons," said Roy.

During the investigation, detectives learned that the gun used did not have Roy's fingerprint after officers located it in a ditch. Eventually, they also learned from witnesses that Roy was not the shooter. 

The photo spread of six men shown to witnesses contained a picture of Roy that stood out by being a different size than the pictures of the rest of the people in the photo lineup.

Despite the prosecutor and Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn acknowledging that Roy was over-sentenced, his conviction could not be overturned due to a legal technicality. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found its way around the legal technicality that would have kept Roy behind bars for life, stating that Roy should be granted a new punishment hearing because his due process rights were violated by false testimony presented during his trial. 

Roy has been out on bond since August 2021 awaiting a new hearing. 

The Texas Court of Appeals granted a new punishment hearing on June 21.

Prior to starting the hearing on Tuesday, Judge Wayne Salvant asked Lassiter if he wanted the hearing to be on record. Lassiter answered "yes." 

After reading a few details from the court case file, Salvant re-sentenced Roy to "time served."

Lassiter immediately expressed concerns to the judge about his client being out on bond. 

"The court will find the sentence has been served and the court will release you from any bond," Salvant said.

"The judge couldn't do any more than that," said Lassiter, "So what's going through my mind is we got to do better as a country.  We got to do better as a state."

Roy's wife, Surnedra Drisdle, has stuck by his side the entire time of his prison sentence. She attended the re-sentencing with him.  

When Salvant read the new punishment for her husband, Drisdle held her head down and emerged with a huge smile on her face. 

After leaving the courtroom both Roy and his attorney said their fight is not over. They want to make sure what happened to Roy won't happen to anyone else.

"We need to create a law, it's that simple. That no man can be sentenced without due process. That's what we're asking. And that's the fight that we intend to continue," said Lassiter.

"We just got to fight," said Roy. "You know, we can't, and I refuse to give up going too far."

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