Man Convicted Of Murder At 15, Now 43, Has A Chance For Freedom

At 15-years-old, Johnny Small was arrested with the belief he was merely in trouble for violating curfew. However, upon the arrest in 1988, police charged the teen with first-degree murder of a woman who was the owner of a tropical fish store, a location that Small claimed to have never visited.

Small was then convicted and sentenced to life in prison due to the testimony of a co-defendant, who was a friend that once lived with Small and his family. David Bollinger has recanted his testimony since that time and relayed that the reason he testified against his friend Johnny had to do with prosecution promising that his charges would be dropped in exchange for his testimony. He also claimed the authorities also threatened Bollinger with the death penalty if he did not cooperate with the prosecution.

A hearing for Small’s case is scheduled to begin on Monday. The now-43-year-old will have a chance for freedom after maintaining his innocence throughout the decades he has spent behind bars. The judge has the ability to throw the conviction out, order a new trial or uphold the current conviction.

A defense motion for Johnny Small relays the appreciation Small now has that his once-friend came forward after decades. The Associated Press shares the words of the defense on the matter.

“[Small] has spent his entire adult life and part of his childhood in prison for a crime he did not commit. Now, he’s grateful his one-time friend, Bollinger, came forward, even though it took decades. He’s doing what he thinks is right, what he knows is right. And I’m happy for that. But am I going to jump for joy? No. Because he should have.”

As the publication reminds, if Johnny Small is released and cleared entirely of this crime and conviction, he will return to a world which he no longer knows. Before he was sentenced, cassette tapes were the manner music was shared with the world. He has never used a cell phone, and Small has never driven with a valid license. All that he knows of the world today is what he has seen via the prison television set. Social media is a foreign platform to him, as is computer technology.

The only plans that the man who insists he is innocent has are to seek therapy, leave Wilmington, and get a job.

Chris Mumma, the defense lawyer for Small, shares that she is hopeful that Johnny will go free as there is no physical evidence that ties the accused to the death of Pam Dreher on the day she was found at her fish shop, so many years ago. Mumma states in the court documents that there is “absolutely no remaining evidence of guilt in the case.”

Prosecutors declined to comment on the new turn of events in the Small case, yet in defense motions, the team had a much more negative view of the situation and did not believe that Bollinger’s recanting of testimony will result in Small going free. AP shares the words of prosecution in the motion.

“[The latest evidence] does little other than discredit or impeach witness testimony, making it insufficient to support a claim for a new trial and certainly does not support outright dismissal of the case.”

It seems that 2015 was the year of exoneration for those who had been falsely convicted of crimes. Details brought forth from the publication note that a staggering 149 individuals who had been falsely convicted of crimes were exonerated last year. It was in 2012 that Bollinger finally contacted the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence to share that his testimony was false. In addition to Bolliger’s recantation, a Crimestoppers call that led police to Small and Bollinger in the first place remains in question.

Although Johnny Small shares he was hurt by Bollinger’s false testimony that landed him behind bars for life, he has since let it go, as AP notes.

“I just let it go because it was hurting me more than it was doing anything,” Small said. “I was hurting myself. Carrying around all that hate, what’s it going to do? It’s going to destroy you.”

[Photo by Spencer Weiner-Pool/Getty Images]