Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot overturned the conviction of a man accused of sexually assaulting two boys more than four decades ago.
Mallory Vernon Nicholson’s 40-year struggle with the justice system began on June 12, 1982, after a man approached two boys — 7-year-old and 9-year-old cousins — while they played outside their grandmother’s apartment on Cleveland Street in Dallas.
The man reportedly offered to give the boys $5 if they helped him break into an apartment.
The children took the man up on the offer. They helped him get into the apartment through a neighboring apartment window and kicked through the bathroom drywall.
Once inside, the man stole several items, including a television, clothing, clock radio, and meat from the refrigerator. The man also sexually abused the boys inside the home while threatening to stab them with a pair of scissors he found in the apartment.
The boys reported the incident to their aunt, who called the police. Police then took the boys to Parkland Hospital for sexual assault examinations.
The boys had initially told police and the doctor that they had been assaulted by a 14-year-old boy nicknamed CoCo. Police determined that the 14-year-old lived nearby.
Court records showed CoCo, identified by his initials, J.M, was killed in 1989.
However, when police took one of the boys to the crime scene two days after the assault, he picked out 35-year-old Nicholson, claiming he was the one that assaulted them.
The second boy was unable to identify Nicholson when police showed him a photo lineup that included the 35-year-old the next day. However, the second boy’s mother later called detectives and told them that her son did not pick Nicholson out because he had been afraid.
The boys identified Nicholson as the suspect when police put him in a live lineup the following day. Police then arrested Nicholson and charged him with burglary and sexual assault.
Nicholson denied any involvement in the incident. He claimed he had been at his wife’s funeral, which was being held 45 minutes away from Dallas at the time of the incident. Besides the boys’ testimony, there was no physical evidence connecting Nicholson to the case.
Nicholson was subsequently tried, convicted, and sentenced to 55 years in prison for the charges. He was released on parole in 2003 after serving 21 years and was required to register as a sex offender. Nicholson, however, maintained his innocence.
The quest for Nicholson’s conviction to be overturned began in 2019 after the Innocence Project asked Cynthia Garza, chief of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), to review Nicholson’s case.
Upon review, Garza’s office found exculpatory evidence and determined Nicholson was at the very least entitled to a new trial.
The review found that prosecutors failed to disclose reports from detectives and the doctor who evaluated the two boys that stated the victims had initially identified another suspect.
Prosecutors also failed to disclose the handwritten interview notes that showed the physical characteristics of the attacker were not consistent with Nicholson’s appearance at the time of the crime.
The interview showed that one of the boys described their attacker as having short hair, while Nicholson had an afro at the time of the attack.
During the trial, the boys claimed Nicholson told them that he was in a hurry and needed to get to his wife’s funeral. Prosecutors argued that this was the most compelling evidence of Nicholson’s guilt. However, the boys did not mention this during investigations and even when they testified before a grand jury.
Prosecutors also failed to disclose handwritten interview notes to the defense, which stated multiple times that the mother and grandmother of one of the boys knew Nicholson’s wife and were aware of her death and funeral date. Had the defense attorneys been aware of this fact, they could have used it to challenge the prosecutors’ compelling argument.
Based on the review findings, a Dallas County District Court recommended that Nicholson’s conviction be overturned, according to court records.
Criminal District Court 7 Judge Chika Anyiam wrote in court papers that Nicholson, now 75 years old, would not have been convicted in light of the suppressed evidence.
Creuzot’s office agreed with Judge Anyiam’s decision.
“It is our job as prosecutors to turn all evidence of innocence over to the defense counsel,” Creuzot said. “And it remains our job to correct past wrongs.”
Creuzot added that there was compelling evidence that showed CoCo could be the likely assailant.
“The State has concluded that there is substantial and credible evidence that someone other than Nicholson committed the offenses,” Creuzot wrote in court papers.
While responding to Creuzot’s decision, Adnan Sultan, an attorney with the New York-based Innocence Project who represents Nicholson, said the 75-year-old has carried the weight of the wrongful conviction for more than half his life.
“He has not been able to obtain gainful employment since his release and has had to endure the stigma and humiliation of registering as a convicted sex offender for a crime he did not commit,” Sultan said. “We are thankful that he is one step closer to true justice.”