Evidence supports wrongful conviction in Limerick priest murder case

James Reyos, who was sentenced to 38 years in prison for a murder he says he didn't commit.

A TEXAS court has heard evidence in support of a man who claims he was wrongfully convicted of murdering a County Limerick priest 40 years ago.

In 1983, James Reyos was convicted of murdering Fr Patrick Ryan (49) despite having an airtight alibi and recanting a drunken admission he made a year after the murder.

Forty years later, the Ector County District Attourney’s office in Texas, is finally listening to Reyos and supporting his appeal to have his murder conviction quashed.

Fr Ryan’s naked, beaten and slashed body was found in the Sand and Sage Motel at Odessa, 80 miles from his home, on December 21, 1981.

The priest, who was a native of Doon in County Limerick, was serving as Parish Priest of Denver City and Plains in Texas and had checked into the motel under an assumed name and address.

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Evidence of finger prints found in the motel room was recently discovered and this pointed to three other men being the chief suspects for Fr Ryan’s killing.  All three have died in the meantime.

Evidence supporting Mr Reyos’ case was heard before Ector County District Court yesterday (Friday).

A statement released early this (Saturday) morning by Mr Reyos’ attorney Allison Clayton, who is also deputy director of the Innocence Project of Texas (IPTX), read: “The hearing today was just the beginning of more than one truly heinous injustices being corrected.

“In my time practicing I have never seen a case like this where the prosecution is fighting in tandem with the defence team. Today hopefully marks the beginning of true justice for both Mr Reyos and Father Patrick Ryan,” Ms Clayton declared.

A spokeswoman for IPTX, which has contributed to the exoneration and release of 28 wrongfully convicted Texans, said: “We are now waiting for a recommendation from the district judge on the evidence presented today.

“It could take up to a few months for the judge to issue his recommendation. If he recommends that James be exonerated, it will then go to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for a final ruling.

“James was wrongly convicted of murder 40 years ago and served more than 20 years in prison for thee death of Father Patrick Ryan in west Texas in 1981. Despite the fact that James could prove he was in another State at the time of the murder, he was found guilty and sentenced to 38 years in prison.”

The IPTX statement went on to explain that Mr Reyos initially met Fr Ryan a few weeks prior to the murder while the native Apache Indian was hitchhiking.

“Reyos, who is gay, claimed that Fr Ryan sexually assaulted him by forcing him to engage in oral sex, a claim the trial prosecutor suggested was a lie and an attempt to slander Fr Ryan. Two other men testified during Reyos’ trial that Fr Ryan had approached them in a car park looking for for a young stud to f—him.

On the morning of the murder, Fr Ryan gave Mr Reyos a lift to get his car out of an impound lot in New Mexico, however they then parted their ways, according to IPTX.

They said that Mr Reyos “established through multiple witnesses, store receipts, and even a speeding ticket, that he was in the area of Roswell, New Mexico at the time of the murder”.

“Texas Rangers verified the information and ruled him out as a suspect.  The case went cold.

“A year after the murder, while heavily intoxicated on drugs and alcohol, James called 911 and confessed to the murder.  Once he was arrested, he immediately recanted. Even with the evidence of his whereabouts at the time of the crime, the State indicted James for murder.

“Since his conviction in 1983, legal scholars, the Ector County District Attorney’s Office, the New Mexico Legislature, members of the Texas Legislature and the local Catholic Diocese all shared their belief that James was wrongfully convicted.

“However, there was not a legal path forward to prove his innocence because all evidence from the case was thought to have been destroyed.”

“In 2022, members of the Odessa Police Department found fingerprints in their archived files that had been taken from the crime scene and from Father Ryan’s stolen car and wallet. They ran the prints through the national fingerprint database and the analysis revealed the identities of Father Ryan’s killers – three men who have all since passed away.” the IPTX statement added.

The late Fr Patrick Ryan who was murdered in December 1981.