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A man spent 21 years in prison on eyewitness testimony. The State suppressed evidence of another suspect. Now his conviction could be overturned

There was no physical evidence linking him to the crimes.

DALLAS —

A man who served 21 years in prison could see his conviction overturned following support from the Innocence Project and the Dallas County District Attorney's Office.

The DA's office shared the recommendation to overturn his conviction Tuesday in a news release. Court documents say that evidence of another suspect was suppressed by the state and not shared with defense attorneys during the 1982 trial for Mallory Vernon Nicholson.

Nicholson, 74, was convicted in September 1982 of burglary of a habitation and two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child. 

There was no physical evidence linking Nicholson to the crimes and he was convicted solely on eyewitness testimony, the district attorney's office said in a news release. 

Nicholson was released from prison in June 2003 after serving 21 years of his 55-year sentence. He remains on sex-offender parole. 

“There’s no time limit on seeking justice,” District Attorney John Creuzot said. 

The Innocence Project brought Nicholson’s case to the District Attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit, which determined that evidence of another suspect was not shared with the defense attorneys. 

Nicholson was accused of sexually assaulting two boys, which Nicholson denied. He had attended his wife’s funeral 35 miles away a few hours before the attack and multiple friends said he was with them after the funeral and into the night, the release said.

His defense attorney argued during his trial that he was mistakenly identified. 

The suspect was consistently described in initial investigative documents as a 14-year-old teen boy nicknamed “Coco” who lived across the street from where the offense occurred, the release said. Nicholson was 35 years old at the time. 

The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office has recommended habeas corpus relief for Nicholson. Prosecutors and defense attorneys submitted agreed findings in the case and a state district judge signed them this month

The case will be sent to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which will decide whether to overturn the conviction. If so, the case will be sent back to the DA's office and prosecutors would determine whether to re-try the case or dismiss Nicholdon's charges.

What happened

On June 12, 1982, a 9-year-old boy and his 7-year-old cousin were playing outside their grandmother’s apartment when they were approached by a male who offered them $5 to help him enter a nearby apartment, according to court documents. 

After all three of them got inside the apartment, the male took a TV, radio, clothes and meat from the refrigerator. He made several trips before returning. 

He told the two boys to lie on the bed and threatened them with scissors before sexually assaulting them, the documents said. 

The male left the apartment. Then the boys escaped and told their aunt what happened. She called the Dallas Police Department and the boys were taken to the hospital. 

The 14-year-old boy nicknamed “Coco” was listed in the initial reports as the suspect and “Coco” was also listed in an Investigative Supplement Report by a physical evidence detective, the documents said. 

The next day, the 9-year-old boy and his mother were taken to the crime scene by detectives in a patrol vehicle. On the way, the boy saw a man, who was Mallory Nicholson, sitting on a porch talking to a friend and the boy said that he was the perpetrator. 

Nicholson was arrested and his photo was placed in a lineup with six photos, which were presented to the 7-year-old boy who did not identify Nicholson as the perpetrator. 

After the detective left the home, the 7-year-old's mother called and said that he did recognize the perpetrator but was afraid to identify him. 

The next day, Nicholson was placed in a live line-up and the 7-year-old boy picked Nicholson out of the lineup. 

Nicholson denied the allegations but was arrested and charged based on eyewitness identifications, despite there being no physical evidence. 

He was subsequently indicted and convicted on all charges. 

In the findings of fact court document, it says that the detectives' documents and the sexual assault exam reports written by a doctor that both listed “Coco” as an alternate suspect were suppressed by the state. 

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