On Thursday, North Carolina Superior Court Judge W. Douglas decided that Johnny Small could be released from the prison he’s been kept in since he was 16, as soon as he can post bond. The judge found that there was not enough evidence justifying his 1988 conviction. Small, now 43, was arrested when he was 15 and at first he thought it was because he had broken curfew.
He was actually being charged with first degree murder in the death of a woman Johnny says he’d never met. He was convicted and given life in prison primarily because of the testimony of his friend and co-defendant, David Bollinger, who testified that he and Small had been at the murder scene with him. The woman, Pam Dreher, was shot in the head once in the tropical fish store she owned.
Bollinger has come forward after decades of silence to confess that he implicated Small under pressure from police and his grandfather. Police promised him a lesser sentence if he testified against Small and reportedly threatened him with the death penalty if he did not. He told the judge that a homicide investigator had concocted the story and that his grandfather had pressured him to lie in court.
The two men have not spoken since Bollinger testified against his one-time friend. Small said he was grateful that Bollinger had finally come forward though he wishes it had been sooner.
While in prison, Small’s mother passed away. He was allowed to attend her funeral with two officers escorting him.