- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

KINSTON, N.C. (AP) - A judge has freed a man who spent 23 years in prison after he was convicted of sexually assaulting his then 9-year-old daughter, a crime she now says didn’t happen.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reports (http://bit.ly/1LyC01H) Superior Court Judge Doug Parsons said Wednesday that he had no confidence in the 1992 trial where Howard Dudley was convicted. Dudley’s daughter had given inconsistent and improbable versions of the alleged assault, among other issues, Parsons said, adding that he was convinced the 1992 testimony from Dudley’s daughter was false. On Tuesday, she recanted her testimony.

Dudley testified Wednesday that he rejected a plea deal that would have freed him in 1992 because he refused to admit to any wrongdoing when he was innocent.

“I want my name cleared,” Dudley testified. “These type of charges are very bad charges. I didn’t commit any of these acts. I need healing,” adding that his daughter needed healing as well.

WITN-TV reports (bit.ly/21EcH5Z) Dudley was released Wednesday afternoon.

In addition to the inconsistent versions of the alleged assault, Parsons noted two other flaws in Dudley’s trial. He said Dudley never received copies of social services and court records showing that his daughter had given wildly inconsistent and improbable versions of the alleged assault.

Dudley’s trial lawyer failed because he spent just 27 hours preparing for a trial that carried two potential life sentences, Parsons said. The attorney, who had been practicing law for only one year at the time, filed no motions and did not consult any expert witnesses, Parsons added.

The News & Observer made Dudley the subject of a 2005 series which revealed problems with the case and illustrated Dudley’s life in prison.

Eventually, the Wrongful Convictions Clinic at Duke University took up Dudley’s case, and in June, another Superior Court judge ordered the hearing that started Tuesday.

Dudley, who was the final witness at the hearing, said he loved his daughter.

“I hope that soon I will be able to hug her neck and tell her I love and forgive her,” he said.

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Information from: The News & Observer, http://www.newsobserver.com

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