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.

For the past 28 years, Small sat in prison while the life he could have led slipped slowly away. He cries when he thinks of his mother, who died in February after years of being too ill to make the trek to the prison.

He hadn’t seen her in six years.

After being repeatedly denied parole, Small had lost hope of ever leading a normal life. So much so, he contemplated suicide.

“I used to sit out in that yard, looking at that fence, just thinking of just climbing on up and making them shoot me off it,” he said, speaking of the prison yard, according to WWAY.

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.

Adam Lee Nemann
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Trial and Defense Attorney, Adjunct Professor of Law at Capital University, founder of Nemann Law Offices
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