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Texas court to hear fresh evidence supporting man convicted of Limerick priest’s murder

Fr Patrick Ryan was murdered at a hotel in Odessa in December 1981.

A TEXAS COURT is to hear evidence this Friday in support of a man it is claimed was “wrongfully convicted” of the murder of a Co Limerick priest in the Lone Star State, forty years ago.

The Innocence Project of Texas (IPTX) confirmed today that “an evidentiary hearing” had been scheduled in Ector County district court “to present evidence of IPTX client James Reyos’ innocence”.

“James was wrongly convicted of murder 40 years ago and served more than 20 years in prison for the death of Father Patrick Ryan in west Texas in 1981,” IPTX stated.

“In cooperation with the Ector County DA’s office, our Deputy Director Allison Clayton is leading IPTX’s efforts to overturn James’ conviction.”

“Despite the fact that James could prove he was in another state at the time of the murder, he was found guilty and sentenced to 38 years in prison,” it added.

Reyos was convicted in 1983 of murdering Fr Ryan, a native of Doon, Co Limerick – even though he had an airtight alibi and swore he was innocent after recanting an admission he made while drunk a year after the murder.

Now, forty years later the Ector County DA’s office is finally listening to Reyos, and is supporting his quest to have the murder conviction quashed.

Fr Ryan’s body was discovered naked, beaten and slashed in a Texas motel room.

Three chief suspects for the killing have since died.

Ryan, 49, was serving as Parish Priest of Denver City and Plains, Texas, when he checked into Room 126, the Sand and Sage Motel, Odessa, 80 miles from his home, under an assumed name and address on 21 December 1981.

Following a review of the case in 2022, the IPTX, filed a writ to overturn James Reyos’ conviction.

Reyos had been paroled but was sent back to prison for drunk driving and he is currently residing in a transitional living facility where his movements remain restricted.

“During the initial investigation, the police interviewed James Reyos, who was the last known person to see Father Ryan alive. James met Father Ryan a few weeks prior to the murder while James was hitchhiking, and on the day of the murder, Father Ryan gave James a ride to get his car out of an impound lot in New Mexico,” IPTX stated.

“James established through multiple witnesses, store receipts, and even a speeding ticket, that he was in the area of Roswell, New Mexico at the time of the murder. Texas Rangers verified the information and ruled him out as a suspect, the case went cold.

“A year after the murder, while heavily intoxicated on drugs and alcohol, James called 911 and confessed to the murder. Once he was arrested, James immediately recanted (however) even with the evidence of his whereabouts at the time of the crime, the State indicted James for murder.”

Sex assault

“The day before Father Ryan’s death, James had visited Father Ryan’s apartment where Ryan had forced him to engage in oral sex. A forensic psychologist testified at trial that James’ guilt about the incident and his sexuality drove him to a false confession. In addition to the confession, the prosecution focused extensively on James’ Apache Native American race and the fact that he was gay,” IPTX stated.

“Despite the fact that no physical evidence linked him to the crime scene and no one disputed that it was physically impossible for him to have committed the crime, James was found guilty. Jurors at the time said their decision was based on the confession and his ‘characteristics’, he was sentenced to 38 years in prison.”

“Since his conviction in 1983, legal scholars, the Ector County District Attorney’s Office, the New Mexico Legislature, members of the Texas Legislature and the local Catholic Diocese all shared their belief that James was wrongfully convicted.

“However, there was not a legal path forward to prove his innocence because all evidence from the case was thought to have been destroyed.

“In 2022, members of the Odessa Police Department (OPD) found fingerprints in their archived files that had been taken from the crime scene and from Father Ryan’s stolen car and wallet. OPD ran the prints through AFIS, the national fingerprint database, the analysis revealed the identities of Father Ryan’s killers – individuals with criminal histories who were known to be staying at the same motel at the time of the murder…All of the real perpetrators have since passed away.”

With the support of the Ector County District Attorney’s Office, IPTX filed a writ to overturn James’ conviction in February of 2023.

The 70th Judicial Court of Ector County has now decided that a hearing based on the new evidence will proceed on Friday.

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