Walter Roy said he was innocent in 1995 when he was arrested and charged with shooting a gang at Fort Worth’s Echo Park. Today, 24 years after his 1998 conviction and life sentence, Roy said he finally felt like someone was listening to him.
Roy’s sentence was reduced Tuesday to time served after the Tarrant County prosecutor’s office said a conviction integrity review found witnesses lied during his trial. In 1998, Roy was convicted of participating in organized criminal activity and attempted murder.
The review of the integrity of the conviction revealed that Roy was not innocent of his involvement in the 1995 incident at Echo Park in Fort Worth, but that he did not fire a gun, according to the prosecutor’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 prosecutor’s office, but a review of the integrity of the conviction found 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 was selling drugs, but he said neither of them were involved in 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 arrested the shooter and the police and the prosecutor’s office knew about it, but he was arrested as the shooter anyway.
Roy, now 45, says the new sentence served is an improvement, but in his eyes it is not justice. Witnesses testified at his trial that he shot people during a drug deal gone wrong, but Roy says he was actually the one who stopped the shooter.
Steven Conder, head of the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit, said that because Roy was in a gang and was at the park for related activity, the review was not not a question of innocence or guilt. Under Texas law, Conder said that because Roy was involved in the activities leading up to the shooting, he is considered a culprit.
Conder said that upon examination, his investigators discovered that Roy had knowledge of drug trafficking, knew that at least one person was armed and was involved in the criminal activity as a member of a gang, but was not one of the gunmen and was not the person who fired the shots.
The question in examining the integrity of the conviction was whether or not Roy had been convicted correctly, Conder said. Because the sentencing judge 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 than he has already purged.
Roy said just because his sentence was changed to time served doesn’t mean he’s done fighting. He’s talking with lawyers to see what his next steps are. He wants the crimes removed from his record and wants to see the district attorney’s office held accountable for what he called a wrongful conviction.
He said he didn’t care about the money he would get from compensation if it was determined he had been wrongfully convicted, as much as he cared about seeing the government held accountable.
“Do I want to be compensated and do the right thing? Yes, because they need to be held accountable,” Roy said. “We are held accountable. They must also be held accountable. But money is not my goal.
Conder said the review did justice under Texas law.
“The fact that the judge considered the claim that he was the shooter, when assessing the sentence, we felt the sentence should be reconsidered,” Conder said. “If the judge had known he was the party and not the shooter, the judge probably would have given him the time he has already served.”
Have a positive impact
Outside of his work to clear his name, Roy said he works with VIP FW, an anti-violence program inspired by the one in Richmond, Calif., which uses ex-convicts instead of the police to intervene and mediate disputes. He said that although he was innocent of the Echo Park shootings in 1995, he was immature and associated with the wrong people.
He wants to use his experiences in prison and the way he learned and matured to help young people who are not bad but who might find themselves in a similar situation, spending time with people or in situations that might hurt them or cause them trouble.
“I’m not a negative person and I wasn’t a bad person back then. I was just immature,” Roy said. do what it takes.”
Roy said he was grateful to be released from prison, but wondered how many innocent people die in prison because of wrongful conviction or over-sentence.
He said he was looking for lawyers and other experts who could help him push for legislative and judicial reforms that could prevent something like this from happening again in the future.