CLEVELAND (AP) — A prosecutor in Houston this week dismissed a murder charge against an Ohio man for a 1979 slaying in a city and state where he said he had never set foot until his extradition there last summer.
Leon Dudley, 69, of South Euclid, and his attorney argued to authorities from the beginning that they had the wrong man.
"We looked at the evidence and it was ridiculous," said attorney Catherine Samaan. "There was no doubt."
Cold case investigators had Dudley arrested in Ohio last June based on his Social Security number, which had been stolen along with his identity years before.
A spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney's Office acknowledged Saturday that police got it wrong and that a man with a similar name and birthdate to Dudley's was initially identified as the suspect. Charges were dismissed Wednesday.
While the Social Security number might have matched, nothing else did, district attorney spokesman Dane Schiller said. Dudley has none of the features identified by witnesses to the shooting that wounded another man. Dudley is not heavy set, isn't right-handed and doesn't have a distinctive scar on his face, Schiller said. The case was re-examined after a new district attorney took office in January, he said.
"It appeared on further, recent investigation that Mr. Dudley, who had been with his wife in Ohio for over 43 years, never visited Texas until he was arrested last year," Schiller said.
It may have taken so long to clear Dudley because police needed to find witnesses from a 35-year-old murder, Samaan said, adding: "It should have been dismissed within a week."
A message was left Saturday with Houston police. It's unclear if they are looking for a different suspect.
What's incontrovertible is that someone opened fire into a crowd during an argument in Houston in November 1979, killing 23-year-old Stephan Chambers and wounding 25-year-old Charles Philleo. Dudley also was charged with attempted murder. He has been free on bond since his initial court appearance last year and wasn't in Texas when his charges were officially dismissed.
A Houston police news release last June said suspect Leon Dudley left town on a bus after being charged.
Dudley's wife, Bonnie, told The Associated Press on Saturday that they had just returned from a Washington, D.C. , vacation when deputy U.S. Marshal came to their home to arrest him last June. She said her husband endured stays in the South Euclid and Cuyahoga County jails and a 12-day van and bus trip from Cleveland to Houston, where he was quickly freed on bond.
Bonnie Dudley said her husband is the last person you would think would murder someone.
"He's kind and generous and will help anyone who asks," she said.
Dudley sank to his knees and prayed when he learned Wednesday that charges had been dismissed, his wife said.
"It's one for the books," Bonnie Dudley said. "We're really glad that it's over."
Associated Press writer David Warren in Dallas contributed to this report.