CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "I'm Davie Hurt. I just spent 13 years in prison for nothing," Davie Hurt said this week.
Hurt, 33, was convicted of first-degree murder in 1998 and sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1995 robbery and shooting death of Fred Thomas Lester, a gas station attendant at Rich Oil in Bluefield.
Last week, after more than a decade of trials, appeals and hearings, Circuit Judge Joseph C. Pomponio Jr. overturned Hurt's conviction on the grounds of ineffective counsel and an unreliable witness.
"I fell out of the chair on the floor. It was just too much. I didn't know what to think," Hurt said of the moment the judge read his ruling, making him a free man.
"I've been dealing with this since I was 17. I grew up in prison. I never got the chance to go to a store, throw my ID on the counter and say, 'I want a beer,'" Hurt said in an interview with the Gazette-Mail this week.
"All of my 20s, gone. . . . I've never had the chance to experience the things that 21-year-olds, 22-year-olds do. I never got to do any of that. Never."
In 1995, police arrested Hurt in connection to Lester's slaying and robbery, after another juvenile admitted shooting Lester in the back of the head and named Hurt as an accomplice.
Hurt has maintained that he was talking to his pregnant girlfriend at about 3 a.m. on Aug. 21, 1995, the time of Lester's death.
At his first trial in Mercer County, jurors couldn't reach a unanimous verdict. They were 10-2 in favor of his acquittal.
His lawyer at the time asked for the next trial to be moved elsewhere because of the publicity it generated. The West Virginia Supreme Court agreed, and chose Pocahontas County.
Hurt is black, the murder victim was white, and he was convicted by an all-white jury in Pocahontas County. The county has a black population of less than 1 percent, and is the seat of the National Alliance, a white-supremacist group, according to the habeas petition filed for Hurt's release.
"The judge's order setting aside Davie's conviction, sets it aside on the basis of ineffective counsel," said Richard Holicker, Hurt's current lawyer with the Kanawha County Public Defender's Office.
"One of those reasons was his trial attorney was ineffective for not objecting to the transfer of the case to Pocahontas County," Holicker said.
Hurt's lawyer also failed to raise a number of issues involving jury selection, including whether anyone on the panel was a member of the National Alliance or a similar organization, according to the petition.
"I could never understand how my case got transferred to a place that has the largest white-supremacist group," Hurt said.
The judge who overturned Hurt's conviction last week said he also did so because the man who implicated him in the slaying and robbery was an unreliable witness.
Like Hurt, Michael Hopkins was 17 when he admitted to shooting Lester and named Hurt as an accomplice. Hopkins pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and, as part of his plea agreement, testified against Hurt in his two trials.
In 1999, though, Hopkins said Hurt had nothing to do with the crime. Hopkins signed two affidavits and wrote a letter to the judge who oversaw Hurt's second trial, admitting that he lied about Hurt's involvement.
In one of his recantations, Hopkins said police gave him Hurt's name, Holicker said.
The year before the robbery, Hurt and his family settled a lawsuit against the Bluefield Police Department that claimed police brutality toward Hurt and his cousin, who were 14 at the time, Holicker said.
The same police officers involved in the lawsuit also were involved in the investigation of the robbery and slaying of Lester, Holicker said.