Wednesday was a day 17 years in the making for Tony Hall, a Hudson man who spent more than a third of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit.
Wednesday morning, Hall, 43, got a phone call from his attorney, Jeffrey Bates, saying the sexual assault of a child conviction, for which he spent 15 years in prison, has been overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
For the entirety of his 15-year sentence, Hall maintained his innocence — something that was never popular with the board of pardon and parole, he said. The now officially innocent man served every day of his 15-year sentence, foregoing 10 years probation offered by the court system in exchange for a guilty plea.
While Wednesday should have been a happy day for Hall, it was a day of mixed emotions, as he unexpectedly lost his half-brother, Sammy Fuentes, Sunday morning. Fuentes, 44, was found dead at a park behind CVS on Frank Avenue. Hall said he believes his brother died of a massive heart attack, as their father died of one at 54.
“He was at my house Saturday. His momma called Sunday and said he was gone,” Hall said tearfully. “I thought Sammy would be here to share this with. We were going to go to Houston to celebrate when I won my case.”
A month ago, Hall lost another close friend, a woman named Jane.
“I don’t have anybody to share this with. This should be a happy day, huh?” he asked shrugging. “(Attorney) Jeff (Bates) called me this morning and said ‘you won, Tony.’ I just broke down. It was too much to take. I said ‘but it feels so empty.’ I’m free. I’m innocent and they know it now, but I would trade all of this to have Sammy and Jane back.”
Bates, surprised by how quickly the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Hall’s conviction, said the next step for his client is to complete an application for the settlement. Bates said he is happy with the outcome of this “long-shot” case. State District Judge Barry Bryan signed off on Hall’s case five weeks ago, recommending it be reviewed by a higher court.
“Nothing can give Tony back all the years that he lost,” Bates said, “but we are very thankful that justice has finally been done and his name has been cleared.”
The money the state of Texas now owes Hall, more than a $1 million, should provide him a fresh start.
“I’m going to take this money, pay my mom’s bills off and get her a place and then I’m gone,” he said. “I’ve got to go somewhere else and start over far, far, far away.”
Jessica Cooley’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.