LaGrange man wrongfully convicted of rape freed after 40 years, reunited with family

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LaGRANGE, Ga. (WRBL) – Terry Lamar Talley was released from Dooly State Prison on Feb. 23, 2021 after spending 40 years in prison. He was wrongfully convicted of three counts of rape and three counts of attempted rape in 1981, and faced multiple life sentences. 

Now, Talley is a free man after he was cleared thanks to the efforts of the Georgia Innocence Project. 

After some research completed by his sister, Talley contacted the Georgia Innocence Project in 2004 and they approved his request to investigate. Two years later, GIP filed an Extraordinary Motion for New Trial Post Conviction DNA testing in the Troup County Superior Court. 

“It was hard going to court, you know, sitting there listening to them accusing him of all, all these raping things and I knew, I knew from my heart that he did not do it,” said Joann Talley, Terry’s mother.

The Georgia Innocence Project is a nonprofit organization that reexamines old cases and helps individuals who still have many years left on their sentence prove their innocence, says to Clare Gilbert, Executive Director of the Georgia Innocence Project.

Gilbert says there are a few different issues that affect how a case turns out, leading to a wrongful conviction.

“Unreliable eyewitness identifications is the biggest one,” said Gilbert. “There are also issues of official misconduct that we see in case after case.”

Gilbert says this can include everything from prosecutors building an all-white jury to not turning over important evidence to the defense, “to making false statements on the witness stand, as appeared to have happened in Mr. Talley’s case.”

In 2009, with the help of the Georgia Innocence Project and the LaGrange Police Department, it was determined that the DNA from the original sexual assault kit was not Talley’s.

“In my professional opinion, as well as the people that have been involved in this investigation with me, is, there were investigative leads and suspects that were not thoroughly followed up on in 1981,” said Sgt. Mark Cavendar from the LaGrange Police Department Criminal Investigation Section.

Judge Quillian Baldwin granted Talley a new trial in 2013 and in the years following, a second suspect was identified. Police asked the second suspect was asked to provide DNA in 2017 and he declined. He was handed a search warrant in 2020 and his DNA was collected.

Once the second set of DNA was collected, Talley’s case was reopened and the Troup County District Attorney’s Office determined the new evidence was compelling enough to set Talley free to rejoin his loved ones.

“As a mother, I feel like he was born all over again from a baby up to now,” said Ms. Talley. “I can enjoy the life here with him that I have missed for so many years and we can rejoice together and learn more about each other.”

Ms. Talley describes the last 40 years as a blur where she cried many times. She rejoiced to be reunited with her son and plans to make up the time they lost with new memories.

Terry Talley was ecstatic to learn the news that he was going to be released once the new DNA was collected and matched. His first thought was to visit his mother and arrived at her house after being released.

Talley says his time in prison as a growth period where he gained a lot of knowledge.

“They embraced me like I had never left, that’s the type of love they show, that’s our family love, I appreciated it,” said Talley about reuniting with his mother and siblings.

The Talleys plan on spending their newfound time together getting to know each other once and creating new memories.

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