DC judge overturns 1985 murder case conviction

A D.C. Superior Court judge has thrown out a conviction in a 1985 murder case saying the testimony of an FBI agent "rested on a foundation of lies."

Derrie Nelson has been locked up for 33 years and learned last week that his conviction has been overturned. He is the sixth man in the last eight years to have his conviction overturned on false hair analysis.

On Feb. 12, 1985, the body of James Nichols was found inside the second-floor bedroom of a house on Lamont Street in Northwest D.C. It is a home where Nelson once rented a room.

The details in this case are extensive, but suffice it to say at trial, prosecutors claimed Nelson entered the house to retrieve some of his belongings, and after ransacking the place, he shot and killed Nichols.

During the trial, FBI agent Michael Malone claimed hairs found on the body of Nichols were a match to Nelson.

Despite maintaining his innocence, Nelson was convicted.

"The last thing I said when I left the courtroom in 1985 was I suggest you find the person who did this," Nelson told FOX 5 by phone from a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina. "I do not understand the delay in this especially when the Department of Justice has already admitted that they know agent Michael P. Malone's was fraudulent, his techniques were malfeasance," said Nelson. "It was wrong and they didn't approve of it, and so it seems to me they should have moved swiftly to handle my case and get it out of the way."

Since 2009, government prosecutors have admitted false hair analysis was used to convict Kevin Martin, Kirk Odom, Cleveland Wright, Santae Tribble and Donald Gates. All of the men won certificates of actual innocence and large monetary settlements.

In his 40-page opinion, Judge Todd Edelman wrote, "Malone presented his conclusions as definitive science when they simply were not" and "the statistical conclusions were at best a guess and at worst yet another fabrication."

Bernie Grimm represented Kevin Martin, one of the five other men whose conviction was overturned.

"Jurors love Law and Order, they love these documentary shows, they love these shows where there is all this science involved," said Grimm. "So when they get in the jury room and they deliberate, they will throw out eyewitness testimony, which can be unreliable for some reasons … Twelve people can agree even if we throw all that out, we still have this hair that came from this defendant's head and was found at the victim's apartment, place or on her body or on his body, and that alone you can get an unanimous verdict. Out of that alone by itself, just the hair."

Following the judge's ruling, the U.S. Attorney's Office immediately filed a motion for a status hearing now scheduled for February.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said they are now reviewing the judge's ruling and have no further comment.