Woman to be freed 16 years after verdict

May 8, 2011 at 8:06 PM

DRAPER, Utah, May 8 (UPI) -- A Utah woman wrongly convicted of murder is finishing spring planting at her prison vegetable garden before her release Monday, supporters say.

Debra Brown of Logan was convicted in 1995 of murdering her employer and friend, Lael Brown, no relation. She is the first convict to be cleared of murder under a 2008 Utah law that allows new evidence in old cases, The Logan Herald Journal reported.

A spokesman for the Utah State Prison in Draper confirmed Thursday Brown, 53, will be freed Monday afternoon.

Last Tuesday, Judge Michael DiReda in Salt Lake City declared Brown "factually innocent," rather than not guilty, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The judge noted that the state argued the killing took place about 7 a.m. Nov. 6, 1993, a time for which Brown apparently had no alibi.

But DiReda found by "clear and convincing evidence" that Lael Brown was alive that afternoon.

Therefore Debra Brown "could not have killed Lael on Saturday morning, as the state argued at trial," nor "at any other time."

Brown did admit stealing from the victim by forging checks valued at about $3,600.

Brown's attorneys suggest that Bobby Sheen, whom Lael Brown had recently evicted, may have been the killer. Sheen killed himself in 2007.

While jailed, Brown finished her high school education, earned a vocational certificate in culinary arts and has worked as a head prison chef.

The Utah Attorney General's Office is expected to say Monday whether it will appeal her release.

Assistant Attorney General Scott Reed said last week Brown could get almost $500,000 in compensation for her 15 years in prison.

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