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Man to be exonerated 40 years after convictions for child sex abuse

Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot said evidence points to another person.

By Krista M. Torralva

Mallory Vernon Nicholson
Mallory Vernon Nicholson, 74, has maintained he was wrongfully convicted of burglary and aggravated sexual abuse of a child in 1982. A Dallas judge agreed in May 2021 that his conviction should be overturned. / (Courtesy: The Innocence Project)

Forty years after Mallory Vernon Nicholson’s trial for burglary and aggravated sexual abuse of a child, Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot has found him innocent.

“(T)he State has concluded that there is substantial and credible evidence that someone other than Nicholson committed the offenses,” Creuzot wrote in a court filing last week, tossing out the case.

Nicholson, now 75 and living in Maryland, will have an exoneration hearing Thursday before Judge Chika Anyiam of Criminal District Court 7.Related:74-year-old man required to register as a sex offender was wrongly convicted in 1982, Dallas judge finds

Nicholson was 35 and a father to two young boys when he was sentenced to 55 years in prison. He was released on parole in 2003 after serving 21 years and has been required to register as a sex offender.

Creuzot’s office began a review of Nicholson’s case in 2019, at the request of local lawyers and the New York-based Innocence Project. Prosecutors with the office’s Conviction Integrity Unit found that prosecutors in Nicholson’s 1982 trial failed to disclose reports from detectives and a doctor who evaluated the two victims — boys ages 9 and 7 — that identified another suspect.

Creuzot joined defense lawyers’ claims that the evidence could have affected the jury’s verdict. The state’s highest criminal court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, agreed and adopted the findings in November, paving the way for Nicholson’s exoneration.

A judge on the court, Kevin Yeary, issued a dissenting opinion which Presiding Judge Sharon Keller joined. They said the case against Nicholson appeared to be “fishy” and his trial might have been unfair. But they thought the lower court should have a hearing to re-examine the evidence before the high court agreed to the findings.

Nicholson always maintained his innocence, saying he was attending his wife’s funeral in Waxahachie when the crime occurred in South Dallas.

The DA’s office identified another suspect, a person who went by the nickname CoCo. He is identified in court records only by his initials, J.M., because he was a juvenile at the time. Court records show he was later killed in an unrelated incident in 1989.

“(T)here exists persuasive evidence that J.M. was the likely assailant,” Creuzot wrote in court documents.

The crime

Court records filed jointly by prosecutors and defense lawyers detail the crime, the conviction and the evidence that was later discovered. At the heart of that evidence are references to the assailant being a 14-year-old boy. Nicholson was 35 at the time.

On June 12, 1982, two cousins said a man approached them while they played outside their grandmother’s apartment on Cleveland Street and offered to pay $5 for help breaking into a nearby apartment, according to court records.

The children said they got in through a neighboring apartment window and kicked in the drywall through the bathroom. The burglar took a television, clock radio, clothing, meat from the refrigerator and other items, according to court records. He then instructed the boys to lie on the bed.

He threatened to stab them with a pair of scissors he took from the bedroom dresser if they did not obey, according to the records. The children laid on the bed and the burglar forced them to remove their clothes, the records state.

He struck the boys and sexually assaulted them. After he left the apartment, the boys fled through the bedroom window and told their aunt, who notified Dallas police.

Officers took the children to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where a doctor referred to a 14-year-old assailant in both his reports, but prosecutors never shared those reports with defense lawyers, according to court records.

Police also wrote in their reports about a 14-year-old boy who went by the nickname CoCo. At least five police reports, some written by different officers, named CoCo. Those reports also were not shared with defense lawyers, according to court records.

CoCo lived in an apartment across the street from where the boys were assaulted.

The day after the assaults, officers took the 9-year-old victim and his mother back to the crime scene. As they were driving, the child saw Nicholson on a porch and said he was the attacker.

Nicholson was arrested and a picture of him was included in a six-photo lineup presented to the 7-year-old victim. The child did not identify anyone in the lineup as his perpetrator.

The 7-year-old’s mother later called the detective and said her son had recognized his attacker in the lineup but was too afraid to identify him, according to court records. The next day, the child was asked to identify his attacker in an in-person lineup.

The men in the lineup were instructed to say, “Shut up, boy, or I’ll stab you with these scissors.” The 7-year-old victim then identified Nicholson, according to court records.

At trial in September the same year, the jury that convicted Nicholson heard from the 9-year-old victim that his attacker said he was in a hurry to go to his wife’s funeral. But the child hadn’t mentioned that when he testified before a grand jury a few months before.

The original prosecutor’s file also includes notes about other inconsistent statements the child made and information that his family knew Nicholson and that his wife had recently died.

That information would have been valuable to Nicholson’s trial lawyers because, his current lawyers assert, they could have used the information to question whether family members inadvertently suggested Nicholson to the child and to challenge the boy’s inconsistent statements.

Notes also showed that the 9-year-old victim described the attacker as having “very short hair” and that Nicholson had an Afro at the time.

The only traits CoCo and Nicholson had in common were that they were Black and male, the Innocence Project said.

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