MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - A Senatobia man is free after spending two years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. A court of appeals found big problems with his public defender. Instead of defending his client, he did anything but.
ABC 24's Jeni DiPrizio sat down with Wesley Devereaux just days after he was released from prison. The big question looming is how this case went so wrong.
Devereaux said, "I have never been a thief and never gonna begin to be one."
But two years ago a jury convicted Devereaux on theft and burglary charges. Devereaux says he helped acquaintances move furniture that he didn't know was stolen.
"Seventeen mandatory years for a crime you didn't do is horrendous," he said.
The court of appeals court found a long list of Wesley Devereaux's rights were violated. It all started during the police interview when he was first arrested.
Video shows him talking with the Senatobia police detective assigned to the case and Devereaux's public defender, although it seemed like the attorney was working with the cops.
Sometimes during the interrogation the public defender would even ask the questions. He told Devereaux to cooperate with the cops, then he sat back appeared not to be listening, instead shuffling through papers. On multiple occasions Devereaux raised concerns about his lawyer defending him properly.
Wesley asked him, "If I make a statement, can you defend me?"
Public defender Leslie Lee helped get the case overturned.
She said, "He was trying to explain what happened and why he was innocently involved and it turned out to be twisted to an incriminating statement and his lawyer never should have allowed that to happen."
"I was honest with them, told them what I knew and what I had done, which wasn't illegal, then they turn it around on me to make it look like I was doing all this stuff," Devereaux said.
Devereaux was offered a deal, but refused.
"I would have had to say I was guilty to get that deal and I am not pleading guilty to a crime I didn't commit."
The state has the option to re-try the case, but the court of appeals says nothing from the tainted police interview can be used.
Lee said she thinks a retrial is doubtful, "because in the Devereaux case there's not much evidence besides his own statements."
Devereaux fears the state will push to try the case again, but one thing is for sure, "anybody ever asks me to help them move something again, they are going to have a receipt in their pocket," he said.
Truth is this is just one example of problems with Mississippi's public defenders.