"Johnny Small was 16 years old when he watched his life evaporate. What he must have felt in 1989 when the judge sentenced him to life and an additional 16 years in prison for the murder of 32-year-old Pam Dreher is unfathomable. Small maintains to this day that he was truly innocent......... In 2012, those dark thoughts were quelled by a spark of hope. David Bollinger, Small’s childhood friend who was the key witness against him in the 1988 trial, contacted the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence with a shocking admission. Bollinger said he lied on the stand in 1988, and he doesn’t think Small killed anyone. The Center’s director, Chris Mumma, filed a motion on Small’s behalf, seeking to have him exonerated. On Monday, Wilmington, N.C., Superior Court judge W. Douglas Parsons held the first of several hearings this week that will consider the motion...“There is more than a reasonable possibility that had Bollinger’s testimony not been admitted at Small’s trial, a different result would have been reached,” the motion stated. Now, Bollinger has taken it all back.........The two weren’t even together at the time of Dreher’s death, Bollinger said. Instead, he was driving his boss to an automobile auction in South Carolina. He said that he lied because Wilmington Police Department detective James Lightner told him to and threatened to arrest him for murder if he didn’t cooperate. Bollinger said Lightner told him that he would be charged with Dreher’s murder and receive the death penalty, the Associated Press reported. Bollinger said he was naive about how the court system worked and believed Lightner. “They questioned and interrogated me one night, and the rest of the time it was coaching — telling me what to say,” Bollinger said, according to the Star. “I lied on him,” Bollinger said, WRAL reported. “(The investigator) told me, if I didn’t say (that Small did it), he was going to prosecute me for murder, and I would get the death penalty.” “I’m sorry. I was forced to do something I didn’t want to do and I can’t take it back,” Bollinger said, looking at Small who raised his wrists, still handcuffed together, to dab tears from his eyes, the Associated Press reported. Bollinger said he told his grandfather, a former police officer and FBI agent, about the police forcing him to lie, but his grandfather encouraged him to stick to that story. “He told me to go along with the story. He knew I would get into trouble, and he didn’t like Johnny,” Bollinger said. Eventually, Small took the stand. Small is a hulking figure, intimidating with his broad shoulders, shaved head and arms covered in prison tattoos — a sleeve on his right and an emblem on his left. “I swear on my life I didn’t do it,” Small said........." Not everyone, though, thinks Bollinger is telling the truth now. Assistant Attorney General Jess Mekeel said Small’s motion should be dismissed. “Innocence is in vogue now,” he told the judge, the Associated Press reported. Exonerations are certainly on the rise. Last year, about 150 people were exonerated, a record number, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. In this case, though, Mekeel thinks Bollinger’s just telling a story. “I think you’ve also heard the phrase, never let the facts get in the way of a good story,” Mekeel said. “This is a good story. The facts will get in the way.” Mekeel continued, stating that he considers reopening cases based on recanted testimony to be a threat to the American legal system. “This is an attempt to retry a 28-year-old case. Twelve jurors made that determination already. They heard the evidence. They concluded the defendant was guilty,” Mekeel said, according to WRAL. Added Mekeel, “They jeopardize the stability and reliability of our justice system.” Small’s family, though, maintains his innocence......... The hearings are expected to last throughout the week."
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