Donald “Doc” Nash walked out of the Dent County Jail on Saturday as crowds gathered on Fourth Street for Salem's annual Independence Day parade. The scene came one day after the Supreme Court of Missouri ordered Nash’s 2009 murder conviction vacated. It was Nash’s first steps outside confinement in more than 11 years.
“I am so happy to see my family,” Nash said upon exiting the jail. “I am an innocent man they sent away, and I am just as innocent today. I have the best attorneys and I want to thank them for everything they have done.”
Meeting Nash were his wife, Theresa, brother Kenneth Nash and his wife Joyce. The family embraced outside the jail before walking together to their vehicles. Per a Saturday stipulation signed by retired 20th Circuit Judge Gael Wood, Nash is to be released on his own recognizance and remain under house arrest at his Franklin County residence. The Missouri Attorney General’s Office now has until Aug. 2 to decide whether it will put Nash back on trial for Judy Spencer’s 1982 murder.
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“This is what freedom looks like, and it came on the Fourth of July,” said Kenneth Nash after embracing his brother. “You don’t know what freedom is until you lose it. I am looking forward to having my brother free. He hasn’t had freedom. They took his freedom from him, 11 years of the best time of his life.”
Nash has been represented by Charles A. Weiss, Steven Snodgrass and Jonathan B. Potts of Bryan, Cave, Leighton & Paisner. His release comes after Nash's St. Louis-based legal team began claiming his innocence with a series of habeas corpus petitions challenging the validity of forensics used in his 2009 trial and citing newly discovered DNA evidence creates reasonable doubt of Nash's guilt.
In its Friday order, the Supreme Court of Missouri affirmed the recommendation of its appointed special master retired 11th Circuit Judge Richard K. Zerr, whose report concludes the prosecution’s expert and forensic theories used in Nash's 2009 trial lack factual foundation. Specifically, Zerr wrote Nash was denied due process due to use of inadmissible testimony by the prosecution, mischaracterization of evidence to the jury and Nash suffering ineffective assistance of counsel.
The state supreme court’s final order on the matter states:
“The court concludes the petitioner, Donald Nash, has met the burden of proof necessary to establish his ‘gateway’ innocence claim in light of the discredited forensic evidence and the newly discovered DNA evidence. Mr. Nash has further established his claim of ineffective assistance in that his counsel failed to seek a Frye Hearing regarding the discredited expert forensic evidence. Additionally, Mr. Nash established he should have been allowed to present evidence of an alternative perpetrator. Mr. Nash, therefore, is entitled to habeas corpus relief. Mr. Nash's conviction is set aside, and this court orders Mr. Nash be immediately released from the department of corrections and delivered to the Dent County Jail where Mr. Nash can seek pretrial release pursuant to Rule 33. Mr. Nash shall be released from either further confinement or pretrial conditions and the jurisdiction of the circuit court in this matter 30 days from the date of this order unless the state files an election to retry him in relation to the offense for which he was convicted.”