Summary Courtesy of The National Registry of Exonerations
by Maurice Possley
On November 14, 2014, 42-year-old Ryun Wahlgren was arrested in Dallas County and charged with failing to register as a sex offender based on a 1995 conviction for aggravated sexual battery in Kansas.
Wahlgren was released on bond. On January 23, 2015, he was arrested by police in Houston, Texas and charged with failing to register there as a convicted sex offender.
On January 27, Wahlgren pled guilty in Harris County Criminal District Court to failing to register as a sex offender. He was sentenced to two years in prison.
On June 30, 2015, Walgren pled guilty in Dallas County Criminal District Court to failing to register as a sex offender in that county. He was sentenced to two years in prison to be served concurrently with the Harris County sentence.
In the fall of 2016, as prison officials were preparing to release Wahlgren on parole, they discovered that Wahlgren’s Kansas conviction was for a charge that was not on the list of “substantially similar” crimes in Texas. Registration in Texas as a sex offender is only required for crimes in other states that have been deemed substantially similar.
In 2013, the Texas Department of Public Safety, which oversees the sex offender statute, published a list of substantially similar crimes for the state of Kansas. The Kansas charge of aggravated sexual battery was not on the list because it covers touching of any part of the victim’s body. In contrast, the same charge in Texas covers only the touching of breasts, genitals, or anus.
Prison officials then notified the Dallas County District Attorney’s office. The prosecution’s conviction integrity unit researched the statutes in Kansas and Texas, and concluded that Wahlgren had pled guilty to a crime he did not commit.
After Wahlgren was released in October 2016, the prosecution joined with Wahlgren’s defense lawyer to support a state law petition for a writ of habeas corpus. On April 26, 2017, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the writ and vacated Wahlgren’s conviction. The Dallas County charge was dismissed on May 24, 2017.
At about that same time, the Harris County District Attorney’s office, having been notified of the dismissal of the Dallas County charge, joined with Wahlgren’s attorney to support a separate state law petition for a writ of habeas corpus to vacate the Harris County conviction. In September 2017, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted that petition and vacated Wahlgren’s conviction. On October 31, 2017, the charge was dismissed.