MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Terry Olson — convicted in 2007 for the 1979 death of man in Buffalo — was released from a prison in Faribault Tuesday, according to his attorneys and the Innocence Project of Minnesota.
In 2007, Olson was found guilty in the 1979 death of 21-year-old Jeffery Hammill, who was found dead on the side of the road just outside of Buffalo.
According to Olson’s attorneys, Maslon LLP, the case was initially closed after an investigation with no charges filed. However, in 2003, the case was reopened when police, according to Maslon, coerced a confession from a mentally ill and vulnerable man, Dale Todd. He then implicated himself and two other men in Hammill’s death: Olson and Ron Michaels.
“The case went forward because the police extracted this confession,” Attorney David Schultz said. “It was recanted.”
Olson’s attorneys say much of Todd’s coerced statement conflicted with known physical evidence.
Todd recanted the confession at Michaels’ trial, but Todd was allegedly coerced into reverting to the story he had told police in 2003 at Olson’s 2007 trial.
Michaels was acquitted, but Olson was sent to prison for 17 years. And despite Todd writing a letter to the trial judge days after the trial confessing that he lied at Olson’s trial, no hearing was held, according to Maslon.
In 2012, Todd contacted the Innocence Project, saying that neither he nor Olson or Michaels had any involvement in Hammill’s death and provided a detailed affidavit explaining the false coerced confession.
Additionally, Maslon attorneys say that one of the lead investigators on the case in 1979, former Chief Deputy Sheriff Jim Powers, contacted the Innocence Project and said he believed the incident was a roadside accident and no crime was committed.
Maslon and the Innocence Project then filed for post-conviction relief in Wright County District Court. There, Olson’s attorneys in the 2007 case admitted they failed to provide him with adequate legal representation.
Dr. Janis Amatuzio, the medical examiner for Hammill who changed his death certificate from undetermined to homicide, said she only made the change because police told her that they had an eye witness to the murder — Todd. Meaning, there was no forensic evidence that led to Amatuzio’s change to the death certificate.
Maslon attorneys say that despite this and other evidence, Olson’s request for post-conviction relief was denied.
“We’ll accept time served. Terry can get out of prison right now if you’re willing to drop the lawsuit in federal court, through which we would have, we believe, gotten an exoneration,” Schultz said.
Olson then filed for habeas corpus in federal court. When the Federal District Court refused to dismiss that petition, the Wright County prosecutor agreed that if Olson dropped his habeas case, he would be immediately released from prison.
After Federal District Court Judge Donovan Frank then issued a written order for amendments of Olson’s released, the Wright County District Court ordered Olson’s immediate release.
The Maslon attorneys say Olson, who was incarcerated for more than 10 years all while maintaining his innocence, is excited to return to freedom and spend time with family.
“The fact is I believe he’s innocent. Terry has always maintained his innocence. There is not a shred of physical evidence to tie him to a murder if it was even a murder,” Schultz said.
Olson embraced the people responsible for gaining his release.
“I am super relieved. This has been a long time coming,” Olson said. “I always had hope. They gave me that hope. You know, that’s what brought me through this.”
Olson says he now has a lot of living to do.
“I just want to go see my mom,” Olson said.