An Ector County judge has recommended to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that James Reyos have his conviction vacated, the Innocence Project of Texas (IPTX) said on Monday, August 7.
Reyos was convicted in 1983 and sentenced to 38 years in prison for the murder of Father Patrick Ryan, a native of Co Limerick. Reyos served 20 years before being released on parole.
IPTX said this week that at a hearing in March, the judge heard overwhelming evidence of Reyos’ innocence from his legal team at IPTX. Reyos’ case will now be transferred to the Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin, which will make a final ruling.
“I have always believed that one day the world would know I did not kill Father Ryan," Reyos said on hearing the judge’s decision.
"Today’s ruling puts me one step closer to finally clearing my name."
Reyos’ attorney Allison Clayton, Deputy Director of IPTX and Director of the Innocence Clinic at Texas Tech School of Law, said: “We are so thankful for today’s ruling, which significantly advances our pursuit of James’ complete exoneration.
"We could not have gotten here without the outstanding work of OPD and the Ector County DA’s Office.
"We all anxiously await a final ruling from the Court of Criminal Appeals.”
IPTX says that on December 21, 1981, Father Patrick Ryan was found murdered in a motel room in Odessa, Texas.
During the initial investigation, the police interviewed Reyos, who was the last known person to see Father Ryan alive. Reyos established through multiple witnesses, store receipts, and even a speeding ticket, that he was in New Mexico at the time of the murder. Texas Rangers verified the information and ruled him out as a suspect.
A year later, while heavily intoxicated on drugs and alcohol, Reyos called 911 and confessed to the murder. Once he was arrested, Reyos recanted.
The State indicted and tried Reyos for Father Ryan’s murder. In addition to the confession, the prosecution focused extensively on Reyos’ Apache Native American race and the fact that he was gay. Even though no one disputed that it was physically impossible for Reyos to have committed the crime, he was found guilty. Jurors at the time said their decision was based on the confession and on Reyos’ “characteristics.”
The Ector County District Attorney’s Office, the New Mexico Legislature, members of the Texas Legislature, and the local Catholic Diocese all shared their belief that Reyos was wrongfully convicted. However, there was not a legal path forward to prove his innocence because all evidence from the case was thought to have been destroyed.
In 2022, evidence was discovered by members of the Odessa Police Department (OPD). OPD found fingerprints in their archived files that had been taken from the crime scene and from Father Ryan’s stolen car and wallet. OPD ran the prints through AFIS, the national fingerprint database, and performed their own comparison. The analysis revealed the identities of Father Ryan’s killers - individuals with criminal histories who were known to be staying at the same motel at the time of the murder. All of the real perpetrators have since passed away.
In February of this year, Odessa Police announced they would be reopening the case into the murder of Father Patrick Ryan as a Cold Case Investigation.