MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Charles Jason Lively is a free man today after spending 14 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
Lively, a client of the West Virginia Innocence Project Law Clinic at the West Virginia University College of Law, was granted exoneration on September 23 by Judge William Sadler in the Mercer County Circuit Court. Staff and students in the law clinic worked on Lively’s case with attorneys from Baker Botts L.L.P.
Andrew George of Baker Botts, Charles Jason Lively, and Melissa Giggenbach of the West Virginia Innocence Project Law Clinic.
In 2006, Lively was found guilty of first-degree murder and arson following the death in 2005 of Dr. Ebb K. “Doc” Whitley in Iaeger, West Virginia. He was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
The WVIP took on Lively’s case in 2017. A year later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit granted him permission to file an appeal based on his trial counsel's failure to consult outside fire experts.
Last month, WVIP filed a motion asking for Lively’s sentence to be vacated and that he be released from prison, citing reports from state-retained fire experts Dr. Craig Beyler and Dr. Glen Jackson, who found that the fire in Whitley’s home was not arson.
Their findings, coupled with statements from the case’s former prosecutor who now believes Lively was wrongfully convicted, led to Lively’s release.
Melissa Giggenbach, program director of the WVIP Law Clinic, is overjoyed at the outcome of the case.
“We are elated that Jason walked out of the courthouse a free man after spending 14 years in prison, and that he is finally at home with his family. Jason’s case underscores the importance of having accurate and reliable forensic science in all cases,” she said. “The use of invalid scientific evidence has resulted in countless wrongful convictions in the past.”
A lot of dedicated people worked together to secure Lively’s freedom, according to Giggenbach.
“We could not have accomplished Jason’s release without the help of the entire WVIP team, including former WVU clinical law students and staff, and all the attorneys at Baker Botts,” she said.
The WVIP is a legal clinic at the WVU College of Law funded, in part, by Wilson, Frame & Metheney, PLLC, and other donors.