NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A Tennessee man is free after spending nearly a quarter of a century in prison.
Last week, the state said it would not re-prosecute Wayne Burgess after a judge overturned his conviction. Since 1999, Burgess has been sitting behind bars for a crime he said he didn’t commit.
“I said, ‘What in the world am I doing here?’ You know, because I was raised to do the right thing and I would do the right thing, and so I said, ‘How did I end up in a place like this?’ People just didn’t believe, didn’t believe me at first,” Burgess said.
Burgess was sent to prison after the 1-year-old baby of his then-girlfriend died. The child was taken to the hospital in a coma-like state and a Grade 2 liver laceration was discovered after her death. Burgess had been with the mom and child a short time before she went to the hospital and the finger was pointed at him until the Tennessee Innocence Project stepped in.
“It couldn’t have happened the way it was presented. It had to have happened hours to days earlier and Wayne wasn’t even around, the child when this trauma would have happened. Therefore, it’s not even medically possible that he could have committed this crime,” Tennessee Innocence Project Deputy Director and Senior Legal Counsel Jason Gichner said.
So, who was responsible for the child’s death?
“Sometimes you don’t even know if somebody did it; I mean that’s what’s the tricky thing about this case is that this child died from trauma that was a liver laceration that over a period of time wasn’t treated,” Gichner said.
The autopsy was performed by Charles Harlan, a medical examiner behind multiple botched autopsies who eventually had his license revoked.
Now, Burgess reflected on what those years behind bars took from him.
“Seeing my son grow up, being with him, that hurt. Any possible thing I had planned to do, like going to college, going to stuff like that. I had plans, but ultimately, it hurt my family,” Burgess said.
The Tennessee Innocence Project urges anyone with a family member wrongfully accused to reach out for their free legal assistance.
“Sadly, there are other people that are sitting in prison right now that are waiting for their stories to be told and for the truth to come out, and I would encourage anybody, any families that are out there that find themselves in this situation, to reach out to us,” Gichner said.
Burgess has spent a good amount of time in the hospital since his release dealing with kidney failure. The Tennessee Innocence Project has set up a GoFundMe for his health concerns and financial hardships he now faces.
Anyone who would like to help can donate here.