Judge delays ruling on case to overturn decades-old murder conviction

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Corey Atchison (right) sits in court at the Tulsa County Courthouse on Tuesday morning. CLIFTON ADCOCK/The Frontier
After spending nearly three decades in prison for a murder he and witnesses say he did not commit, Corey Atchison will have to wait another month before finding out whether a Tulsa County judge will vacate his conviction.

Atchison, who is now 48, was convicted by a jury in 1991 of first-degree murder in the shooting death of James Lane. Atchison has maintained his innocence throughout, and filed several applications for post-conviction relief. His latest application was filed in mid-2017.

In previous court hearings on Atchison’s application, witnesses who had initially testified that Atchison was the shooter recanted their testimony, and said they had been coerced by police detectives to name Atchison as the shooter. In addition, Atchison’s attorneys said that police had been informed another man had shot Lane, but that information was never revealed to Atchison’s trial attorney.

According to witnesses, in the early morning hours of Aug. 3, 1990, Atchison and three friends were riding in his 1976 Oldsmobile when they heard a nearby gunshot. As Atchison turned a corner, his headlights fell on a man laying in the street near the curb. Atchison, witnesses said, got out and began telling people to summon emergency responders. Atchison and his friends remained at the scene until allowed to leave by officers, but several months later detectives focused on him as a suspect.

On Tuesday morning, Tulsa District Court Judge Sharon Holmes, who was scheduled to issue a ruling on whether Atchison’s conviction would be overturned, said her ruling would have to be pushed back until July 16.

In March, Holmes was allegedly stabbed with a kitchen knife by her daughter Adrienne Smith, 28. Holmes, who was found in her home in a pool of blood, suffered a deep knife wound to her leg, a broken ankle and possible facial injuries, according to police reports.

Smith has been charged in Tulsa County with felony assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and the case is being prosecuted by Rogers County assistant district attorneys Brian Surber and Edith Singer.

“As many of you know, I have been absent from the courthouse for about two months,” Holmes told Atchison, his attorneys, prosecutors and family members present for Tuesday’s hearing. “I’m still in the process of trying to catch up on my work and I wasn’t able to finish Mr. Atchison’s findings and conclusions the way I wanted to.”

During her announcement, Holmes publicly apologized to Atchison for delaying her ruling and asked for his patience.

“I just want to profusely apologize to you for having this delay,” Holmes said to Atchison. “I’m not trying to slow-play you, Mr. Atchison, I’m really not. I do things a certain way and when I do them I want them done the right way. That’s just how I roll.”

Atchison, who sat in the courtroom dressed in orange and white jail clothing, smiled broadly and nodded as Harper addressed him.

“The emotional roller coaster has to be extreme. It’s extreme for us — his team, his family, his friends,” said Joe Norwood, one of Atchison’s attorneys. “Corey Atchison is a very cool, calm, humble guy. He gets this process. He’s been living with this nightmare 28-plus years. Another month — he could do that standing on his head.”

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Clifton Adcock

Senior Staff Writer

A veteran investigative reporter who has covered eastern Oklahoma for more than 15 years, Clifton joined The Frontier in April 2017. A native of southeastern Oklahoma, he has covered numerous issues from criminal justice to politics for publications including the Tulsa World, the Oklahoma Gazette, and Oklahoma Watch. Clifton holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. Clifton can be reached at clifton@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @cliftonhowze
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