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Utah Grandma to be Freed After 17 Years in Prison

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on May 10, 2011 9:56 AM

After missing countless graduations, marriage and births, Debra Brown was released from Utah State Prison Monday after spending 17 years behind bars.

A belated Mother's Day celebration ensued.

She is the first inmate to successfully take advantage of a new law that allows convictions to be judicially reconsidered based on factual evidence.

Debra Brown, now 53, was convicted of the November 1993 murder of her friend and employer, a 75-year-old man she cared for, reports the Associated Press.

At trial, she admitted that she had forged the victim's checks, but presented evidence that she was not at the crime scene. She was still convicted.

While we most often hear news of inmates exonerated by new DNA and scientific evidence, in 2008, Utah passed a law that allows inmates to challenge a conviction based on new factual evidence.

Generally speaking, prisoners can file habeas corpus petitions on the basis of new evidence, arguing that they are being unconstitutionally held. These instances, however, rarely work.

The standard for presenting new factual evidence has generally been much higher, often requiring a showing that the evidence could not have been discovered at the time of trial despite counsel's due diligence. Either that, or the inmate must show that prosecutors illegally withheld evidence.

However, because there is no question that DNA science has gotten better, courts are more likely to grant retesting.

Debra Brown was declared "factually innocent" by the president judge, who now needs to sign an order granting her release, according to the Associated Press. She'll also receive financial restitution for up to 15 of the years she wrongfully served in prison.

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