After more than 20 years at Oklahoma’s Joseph Harp Correctional Center serving a life sentence for a crime he claims he did not commit, Ricky Dority has finally experienced freedom thanks to the efforts of the Oklahoma Innocence Project and a dedicated private investigator. Like many other cases, his exposes the unfairness and inadequacies in the legal system.
The 65-year-old Dority was incarcerated for the 1997 cold case murder of Mitchell Nixon, a 28-year-old. But when Bobby Staton, a private investigator, and law students from the Oklahoma Innocence Project examined the details, contradictions in the state’s version of events emerged. They learned that in 2014, Rex Robbins, another man, had been forced into a confession that resulted in Dority’s false conviction.
Dority had always insisted on his innocence, claiming he was set up by an aggressive sheriff and a state prosecutor who were desperate to close the case. Even though Dority was serving a federal prison sentence for possessing a pistol at the time of Nixon’s murder, he was falsely charged. During his prosecution, important evidence was disregarded, including documents demonstrating his arrest on the day of the crime.
Following the case’s reopening in 2014, Robbins implicated Dority, which resulted to his conviction and suggested life in prison without the possibility of parole. But when Robbins was questioned again, he changed his story, which led the Oklahoma Innocence Project to look into the case further.
Abby Brawner, a law student, was given the task of helping Staton identify the weaknesses in Dority’s argument. Their efforts revealed inconsistencies in the details provided by witnesses and the false testimony of the informant. The pivotal moment occurred when Robbins retracted his claim while visiting the Oklahoma State Reformatory, a maximum-security facility.
The homeowner, who was expected to be a key witness, testified during a hearing this summer that the informant did not reside at the property where he claimed Staton had changed into bloody clothes. A judge in Sequoyah County dropped Dority’s case due to the incompetence of his initial attorneys in the wake of these disclosures.
Prosecutors have ninety days to determine whether to retry Dority even after his release. Dority is unconcerned about doing more forensic tests since he is certain of his innocence. The case highlights a larger problem of erroneous convictions in the state and has sparked debates about the need for judicial system reform and oversight.
Now that he’s released from prison, Dority is adjusting to life outside of it. He’s thankful for the Oklahoma Innocence Project, the private investigator, and the legal system that finally realized his conviction was flawed, even though it took a while. His narrative is a powerful reminder that many people can be unjustly incarcerated and that work must be done to correct these injustices.
Dority is committed to raising awareness of the predicament of those who could be innocent but are still imprisoned as he makes his way through his newfound freedom. His story serves as an example of the value of committed people and groups making a concerted effort to find the truth and address injustices inside the legal system.