- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - An Oklahoma judge has vacated the murder conviction of a man who was serving a life sentence for a 1998 killing after a key witness said she gave false testimony out of fear for her life.

Oklahoma County District Judge Timothy Henderson vacated the conviction of 34-year-old Salaam Moore, who was released from custody Monday night 17 years after authorities opened the case. Moore’s attorneys had argued there was no physical evidence linking him to the death of Phillip Gonzales.

At trial, prosecutors argued that Moore shot and wounded a woman named Doris Wright and killed Gonzales in a drug dispute in an Oklahoma City neighborhood. Moore was convicted in 2001 of shooting with intent to kill and first-degree murder, based primarily on Wright’s testimony.

Moore on Wednesday told The Associated Press that hearing Wright’s initial testimony was “heartbreaking.” He knew Wright well before his conviction and loved her like an aunt, he said.

“I’m not holding no grudges or nothing like that,” Moore said. “Just let her know that if she thinks I’m going to hold grudges or if she feels like I hold something against her, that’s not the case.”

Shortly after the shooting, Wright declined to tell investigators who shot her and killed Gonzales, saying she did not know, according to court documents. A few weeks after her release from the hospital, she testified that a conversation she had with Moore after the shooting led her to believe he was the one responsible.

But Wright later recanted her testimony, resulting Monday in prosecutors agreeing to dismiss the case.

“Mr. Moore did not commit these crimes, and he is innocent and wrongfully incarcerated at this time,” Wright said in an affidavit. “I testified that Mr. Moore committed the crimes … because I was afraid for my life if I told the truth.”

In March, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater had questioned whether Wright was being truthful and asked the court to set a hearing to determine whether her statement was reliable.

“Obviously, if these statements are true and had been presented at trial, there is a reasonable probability that the information in the affidavit would have resulted in a different outcome at trial,” Prater said in a request for the hearing. “However, the State has grave doubts as to the veracity of these statements.”

Prater did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Moore conducted a 17-year legal battle to challenge his conviction, attempting several unsuccessful appeals. His attorney hired a private investigator to locate Wright, which led to her eventual testimony that absolved Moore of any role in the shooting.

“For the guys out there wrongfully convicted that know they’re innocent, keep the faith,” Moore said. “Don’t give up. Never give up.”

An attempt to locate Wright through Moore’s attorney went unanswered Wednesday afternoon.

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