COLUMBIA, S.C. — A 74-year-old Indiana man has been freed after serving 14 years for the death of a South Carolina cab driver in 1961, according to a plea deal arranged last month.
Edward Freiburger of Columbia City, Indiana, on June 8 entered an Alford plea to voluntary manslaughter, maintaining innocence but acknowledging there was enough evidence to convict him, according to the State newspaper .
The bloody cab of 63-year-old John Orner was found parked in downtown Columbia in 1961, and his body was later found in a ditch. He had been shot once in the head.
The key evidence against Freiburger, then a soldier at Fort Jackson, was a gun found by a Tennessee trooper who stopped him for hitchhiking a few weeks after the killing. Forty years later, ballistics tests matched the gun to bullet fragments taken from Orner’s body.
Freiburger was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in 2002. His conviction was upheld in 2005. But in 2015, Freiburger was granted a new trial after another appeals court ruled the defense team had failed to introduce a key document at trial: a 1961 letter by state police stating Freiburger’s gun didn’t fire the bullet that killed Orner.
Freiburger, released on parole in 2015, was allowed out on bond a year later as prosecutors weighed their re-trial options. Ultimately, prosecutors opted for the deal instead of a new trial.
John Blume, a Cornell University School of Law professor who worked on Freiburger’s case for a decade, said last week the deal was in Freiburger’s best interest.
“It wasn’t the complete exoneration that he and his family had hoped for, but it nevertheless brought this to an end,” Blume said of Freiburger, who is relocating to Indiana to be near family.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, whose cold case detectives arrested Freiburger in 2001, said he believes Freiburger is guilty but that this kind of a plea is a fair outcome.
“We upheld our promise to the victim’s family, which was to never forget, and never let it go away, and we didn’t,” he said.
The story has been corrected to show the plea came last month, not last week.
Information from: The State, http://www.thestate.com