NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — After serving 17 years behind bars for a murder that the Tennessee Innocence Project says he didn’t commit, Thomas Clardy has finally been released from prison.

The Tennessee Innocence Project has been working for nine years to exonerate Clardy, who was convicted of a 2005 murder at an auto body shop in Madison. Despite his 2007 conviction, the non-profit law firm said no physical evidence has ever tied Clardy to the crime scene.

The only evidence supporting Clardy’s conviction was a single eyewitness identification, which attorneys said was not made until nearly a month after the crime. Evidence collected before the trial, but not tested until later, reportedly connects different suspects to the scene.

Tennessee Innocence Project
(Courtesy: Tennessee Innocence Project)

Clardy has steadfastly maintained his innocence for nearly two decades and after years of court proceedings, a federal district judge in Nashville overturned his conviction in June 2023.

Judge Aleta Trauger held that Clardy was denied effective assistance of counsel at his original trial in violation of his constitutional rights. She also stated that Clardy’s original lawyer “performed deficiently” by failing to present expert testimony on the well-documented limitations of eyewitness identifications.

The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office has appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. While the proceedings on appeal continue, Clardy’s legal team filed a motion for his immediate release, which was granted by Judge Trauger.

On Friday, Oct. 20, Clardy walked out of prison and was reunited with his friends and family.

“We are pleased with the federal court’s decision to overturn Mr. Clardy’s conviction and are thrilled that he was released from prison today,” said Scott Gallisdorfer, an attorney at Bass, Berry & Sims who has worked on the Clardy case since 2019. “We firmly believe in Mr. Clardy’s innocence, and we are proud to partner with TIP as we continue the fight for his exoneration.”

The Tennessee Innocence Project was launched in February 2019 as the first full-time organization in the state working to free wrongfully convicted Tennesseans. To date, the organization believes more than 3,200 people have been wrongfully convicted across the U.S.