The murder of Father Patrick Ryan, a Catholic priest who was a native of Co Limerick, has been reopened as a Cold Case Investigation, Odessa Police in Texas said on February 3.

Fr Ryan was murdered at a hotel in Odessa, Texas in December 1981. Odessa Police said that an investigation eventually led to the arrest and conviction of James Harry Reyos.

Odessa Police said in a statement on February 3 that in 2021, the Odessa Chief of Police became aware of public question as to the guilt of Reyos. The questions were so compelling that Chief Gerke ordered the Odessa Police Department Special Operations Bureau to conduct a review of the case.

During the review, investigators developed serious questions as to Reyos' guilt. 

Odessa Police say Reyos' conviction was based almost solely on a confession that he provided in New Mexico while he was intoxicated. He later recanted the confession.

Furthermore, the investigation did not lead to any other corroborative evidence that substantiated the confession. In fact, the new review of the case revealed evidence that tends to show that Reyos could not have been present at the crime scene. Fingerprint cards within the original case file revealed latent fingerprints at the crime scene that did not belong to Reyos.

This, coupled with Reyos's known whereabouts during the murder, led the investigators to believe that another party (or parties) committed this murder.

Based on the facts found during this review, the Odessa Police Department presented its findings to the Ector County District Attorney's Office. The ECDA has completed a thorough investigation as well and have come to much the same results as the Odessa Police Department. Both agencies agree that there is compelling doubt to James Harry Reyos' guilt in this case. 

Mike Gerke, the chief of Odessa police, said a number of things "don't make sense" about Reyos' conviction. 

"To get to Odessa to commit the crime he would have to have driven at an extremely high rate of speed all the way for the timeline to fit it just doesn’t make sense right?" Gerke told local news outlet CBS7.

"It doesn’t make sense that there are fingerprints at the crime scene but his fingerprints aren’t at the crime scene.

"It doesn’t make sense that the crime scene is pretty violent but yet he had very minimal, there was like no injuries on Mr. Reyos. I mean those things don’t add up."

A recent column in Texas Monthly details how Reyos met Fr Ryan in December 1981 when he was hitchhiking from Denver City to Hobbs and the Irish priest picked him up. The two stopped and drank a pitcher of beer and after a few hours, Fr Ryan drove back to his church while Reyos walked home.

The two met up a few more times, including the day before and the morning of the priest's murder.

Despite "suspicious" events leading to Fr Ryan's murder, Reyos had a solid alibi that he was more than 200 miles away from the scene of the crime when it happened.

Reyos was brought in and after four hours of questioning, he was released by police and the case went cold.

However, nearly 11 months later, Reyos phoned 911 while intoxicated and claimed to be the priest's killer. He had been harboring a secret: "on his visit to Ryan’s apartment the day before the murder... Ryan had forced him to engage in oral sex." 

Reyos was arrested and taken to the Albuquerque jail. However, he told his public defender "In the name of God, I didn't do this," and told a detective “I am not the killer. I just like to cause trouble for law enforcement.” Reyos retracted his confessoin.

The case went to trial and despite his alibi, Reyos was found guilty and sentenced to 38 years in prison. He served 20 years before being released on parole. He failed in his appeal to overturn his conviction.

Now 66, Reyos currently lives in a housing complex in South Austin, Texas. This month, the Innocence Project of Texas filed a writ to overturn Reyos' conviction.