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Supreme Court upholds decision to exonerate woman convicted of murder

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Posted at 12:54 PM, Jul 12, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-12 20:47:31-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Supreme Court has decided to uphold a lower court's decision to exonerate Debra Brown, a woman who served 17 years in prison and was later found to be "factually innocent" in the 1993 murder of her boss, Lael Brown.

Debra Brown was exonerated in May 2011 after a judge ruled factual evidence proved she could not have committed the crime. Brown was exonerated under a new state law that allows convictions to be overturned based on factual evidence.

"We affirm the post-conviction court. We hold that a post-conviction determination of factual innocence can be based on both newly discovered evidence and previously available evidence," Chief Justice Matthew Durrant wrote in the Supreme Court's opinion released Friday. "Also, because the State did not properly challenge the post-conviction court’s factual findings, we affirm the post-conviction court’s ultimate determination that Ms. Brown is factually innocent."

The Utah Attorney General's office, who tried to reverse Brown's exoneration, expressed disappointment in the Supreme Court's decision.

"[Justice Thomas] Lee, on the other hand, dissented. He dug into that evidence and, as you can see in his opinion, there are serious doubts about her alibi and about her overall position that she did not commit this murder," said Christopher Ballard, Assistant Utah Attorney General. "Her evidence falls woefully short of being able to reach that standard."

Debra Brown is entitled to some compensation for being wrongfully imprisoned, but her attorneys haven't said whether or not they will pursue that.