Louisville judge releases man given beer by arson investigators - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Louisville judge releases man given beer by arson investigators on day of confession

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A judge has ordered a Louisville man be released from prison after overturning his 2010 arson conviction because jurors never heard that investigators gave the man alcohol on the day he confessed.

Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens released U.B. Thomas from prison on Wednesday, but ordered he enter a recovery program.

The Jefferson Commonwealth's Attorney's office has appealed Stevens’ March ruling that vacated Thomas' conviction and 20-year-prison sentence. Stevens ruled jurors should have been told that Thomas was provided beer by Louisville arson investigators.

Thomas' attorney at the time failed to raise the issue, an error that likely "altered the outcome of the trial," Stevens ruled. "This is such an unusual and shocking development that it was bound to have impact upon the jury."

Thomas has been incarcerated for about eight years. He has consistently claimed he was given alcohol during his confession and allowed to take prescription drugs from a bag he had with him. 

Investigators acknowledge Thomas was given beer, but only after he had confessed.

In a court hearing in November, former Major Henry Ott, chief of investigations for the Louisville Metro Arson Squad at the time, admitted investigators bought a beer for Thomas' girlfriend to get her to come to the police station and give a statement.

They then gave Thomas the rest of the 40-ounce beer, but Ott said it was not part of any plot to coerce Thomas to confess. Ott has said it was an act of kindness for a man who was likely going to prison.

"I gave the man a beer," Ott told investigators during a 2009 criminal investigation by Louisville Metro Police. "I shouldn't have done it. I won't do it again."

An attorney for Thomas argued it didn't matter when the beer was given to Thomas, whom she described as an addict who would have said anything to get alcohol.

Jane Tyler, Thomas' trial attorney, did not bring up the alcohol consumption in front of jurors during the trial, in part, because several investigators were prepared to testify that Thomas confessed before being given beer, according to Stevens' ruling.

But Stevens ruled that the issue "would have substantially impacted the outcome of the trial," leading jurors to question how much alcohol was provided and when.

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