Man released from prison after 11 years, says he didn't commit murder

A man who spent 11 years in prison for a murder he insists he didn't commit was released this week thanks in part to the efforts of the Innocence Project of Minnesota.

Terry Lynn Olson, 57, was convicted in 2007 of the murder of Jeffrey Hammill, who was found dead near the side of a Wright County road in 1979. The main witness in the case repeatedly changed his testimony.

Julie Jonas, legal director of the Innocence Project of Minnesota, said her assessment of the evidence in the case was that it was weak, which was partly why they took on the case.

Those efforts came to fruition on Tuesday when Olson was released from the Correctional Facility in Faribault.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

But Olson wasn't exonerated of the crime. Instead, he was released after an agreement was made with the prosecution.

"While we were in federal court suing the state for his release, the state contacted us and thought there was unfairness in the case, and certainly in his sentence, and offered that if he was willing to withdraw his federal suit and not sue the state in the future, he would be released," Jonas said.

Olson had maintained his innocence from the beginning, even rejecting a generous plea deal from prosecutors before his conviction, Jonas said, but ultimately decided to accept the deal for personal reasons.

"Having been in custody for 11 years and really considering his options, he knew the fight would continue in federal court for a couple more years," Jonas said. "His mother is in a nursing home and pretty ill, and he felt it was important for himself and his family that he be out to be with her."

Jonas was with Olson when he was reunited with his mother at her nursing home on Tuesday.

"I don't think his mother ever thought that she would see him in this world again," she said. "The joy on her face when he came through the door, it's something that I was very privileged to witness, and I really felt in my heart at that moment that he had made the right decision."

Afterwards, Jonas said Olson left the nursing home, took off his shoes and socks, and stood in the grass.

"His feet had not touched grass barefoot for 11 years," Jonas said. "It's just such a small, simple thing, but it's amazing when that can happen for someone."