TILLAMOOK COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — Nicholas McGuffin walked out of an Oregon prison as a free man on Tuesday night for the first time in nearly a decade.
McGuffin had been finishing the rest of his sentence at the South Fork Forest Camp in Tillamook County for the 2000 death of his 15-year-old girlfriend, Leah Freeman.
Freeman disappeared south of Coos Bay in June of 2000. Her body was found a week later but the case went cold. McGuffin, her boyfriend at the time of her disappearance, was arrested 10 years later and convicted of manslaughter in 2011.
He was a young father working as a chef at the time of his arrest.
But McGuffin’s post-conviction legal team found “exculpatory DNA evidence that was never disclosed to the jury.” His legal team learned the Oregon State Police Forensics Services Division “found DNA belonging to an unidentified male on the victim’s bloodstained shoe” before the criminal trial began, but did not report the find to anyone outside the lab.
McGuffin’s attorneys found out about the DNA evidence and confronted the lab in 2017, arguing that if the DNA evidence had been available at his original trial, the jury would not have convicted McGuffin.
Malheur County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Sullivan agreed, overturning the conviction November 29.
At that time, the Oregon Attorney General’s office had not yet decided whether to pursue a new trial. McGuffin has always maintained his innocence in Freeman’s death.
Coos County DA R. Paul Frasier said in a statement released Tuesday he learned the Oregon Department of Justice would not appeal a ruling that McGuffin get a new trial.
Court documents revealed Leah Freeman’s mother “does not want to go through the pain and stress a new trial would bring.”
McGuffin — who was scheduled to complete his manslaughter sentence in August of 2020 — was free to go.
KOIN 6 News was there as he walked away from the prison, putting his conviction behind him.
“It’s one of the better days I’ve had over the past 9 years,” he said while standing next to his mother and legal team. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time and it’s finally here.”
McGuffin said he was looking forward to going home to his family and daughter, now 12 years old.
Janis Puracal with the Forensic Justice Project represented McGuffin at his post-conviction trial. She was with him as he left the grounds of the jail.
“Today is a completely different day for us to actually walk him out of prison and into the arms of his family,” she said. “Meant a lot to his entire team who’s worked on this for years.”
But even amidst the celebration, McGuffin couldn’t help but wonder who is responsible for Freeman’s death.
“The work’s not over,” he said. “I truly just want to know what happened and hopefully in the near future we can figure that out.”
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