James Reyos

Time Served: 24 Years

38 Years


On December 21, 1981, Father Patrick Ryan was found murdered in a motel room in Odessa, Texas. He had been brutally beaten to death.  Because Ryan had checked in to the motel under a false name, it took several days for him to be identified.  His stolen car was found 90 miles away and his wallet was found at nearby gas station.

During the initial investigation, the police interviewed James Reyos, who was the last known person to see Father Ryan alive. James met Father Ryan a few weeks prior to the murder while James was hitchhiking.  The day of the murder, Father Ryan gave James a ride to get his car out of an impound lot in New Mexico.  James established through multiple witnesses, store receipts, and even a speeding ticket, that he was in the area of Roswell, New Mexico at the time of the murder.  Texas Rangers verified the information and ruled him out as a suspect.  The case went cold.

“I am so grateful to Innocence Project of Texas for this day. I want this to serve as hope to the people of Texas that justice can prevail.”

Arrest & Trial

A year after the murder, while heavily intoxicated on drugs and alcohol, James called 911 and confessed to the murder.  Once he was arrested, James immediately recanted. Even with the evidence of his whereabouts at the time of the crime, the State indicted James for murder.

The day before Father Ryan’s death, James had visited Father Ryan’s apartment where Ryan had forced him to engage in oral sex.  A forensic psychologist testified at trial that James’ guilt about the incident and his sexuality drove him to a false confession.  In addition to the confession, the prosecution focused extensively on James’ Apache Native American race and the fact that he was gay. Despite the fact that no physical evidence linked him to the crime scene and no one disputed that it was physically impossible for him to have committed the crime, James was found guilty. Jurors at the time said their decision was based on the confession and his “characteristics.”  He was sentenced to 38 years in prison.


James was initially released in 1995.  Due to his alcohol addiction, he was returned to prison on for a parole violation and released in 2003. In 2008, while on parole, James was in the area when a woman was accosted by a flasher.  Despite not fitting the description and the witness stating that James was not the perpetrator, he was arrested and returned to prison for four years violating parole.  He was released in 2012.


Since his conviction in 1983, legal scholars, the Ector County District Attorney’s Office, the New Mexico Legislature, members of the Texas Legislature and the local Catholic Diocese all shared their belief that James was wrongfully convicted. However, there was not a legal path forward to prove his innocence because all evidence from the case was thought to have been destroyed.

In 2022, members of the Odessa Police Department found fingerprints in their archived files that had been taken from the crime scene and from Father Ryan’s stolen car and wallet.  OPD ran the prints through AFIS, the national fingerprint database. The analysis revealed the identities of Father Ryan’s killers – individuals with criminal histories who were known to be staying at the same motel at the time of the murder.  All of the real perpetrators have since passed away.

With the support of the Ector County District Attorney’s Office, IPTX filed a writ to overturn James’ conviction in February of 2023.  A hearing was held on the new evidence on March 24th in the 70th Judicial Court of Ector County.  On August 4th, the district judge ruled that James should be found actually innocent. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals released their decision on October 4th, 2023 exonerating James forty years after his wrongful conviction.

Photo by Christopher Lee for Texas Monthly

Systemic Failures Have Wrongly
Imprisoned Thousands of
Innocent Texans.

The Generosity of Their Fellow Citizens Can Provide Them
The Freedom They Deserve.

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