A woman, freed after being behind bars for seven years, says she’s trying to rebuild her life after a judge found her ‘not guilty’ of the crime for which she served seven years in jail and prison.
On Wednesday, Paula Hall read over court documents containing the words that set her free. "Not guilty: was the judge’s decision after she waived her right to a second trial by a jury, ending what she calls her 10-year nightmare.
“It was so scary. I couldn’t believe this was going on,” Hall said.
In 2009, a jury convicted Paula for the brutal murder of Freda Heyn.
It was in 2003 that Heyn disappeared from Oldfield, where she lived. Some of her remains turned up months later in the Mark Twain National Forest.
David Epperson was originally charged with the crime, along with Paula Hall and her former brother-in-law, Billy Wayne Hall. Court documents say Epperson's DNA was at the crime scene. He was sentenced on a lesser charge of tampering with evidence in exchange for testifying against Paula Hall. The murder charge was dropped years later against Billy Hall.
After the jury verdict for first-degree murder, Paula Hall was sentenced to prison. She says she used her time there to find faith, and make changes her life.
“It was hard. I am not going to sit here and say I am perfect, either. I didn’t murder anybody and didn’t do anything that the crime commits of, but I wasn’t an angel either,” Hall said.
“It got her off drugs. It got her away from that crowd she ran with,” said Rita Sanders, Hall’s defense attorney.
Then, last May, Hall’s conviction was overturned after a judge ruled her rights to due process were violated during the trial. However, her freedom, forever, was not a guaranteed thing. There would be another trial, one that came to an end this Tuesday. Greene County Circuit Judge Michael Cordonnier, assigned to the case as a special judge, heard four days of testimony and evidence last week at the Taney County Courthouse in Forsyth.
“I told Paula, if this comes back as a guilty verdict, I am done with law, because there would be absolutely no justice,” said Sanders, a former police officer. “And I almost left the practice of law the first time because I was so shocked.”
“I didn’t know if I was going to go to prison or if I was going to go home,” Hall said. “It was gut-wrenching. My heart dropped to my feet.”
The judge decided the evidence did not point to Paula Hall. She was free, and her nightmare was over.
“And now I am just trying to process being home and being out and being free,” said Hall.
Hall offered her apologies for the family of Freda Heyn.
"I am sorry justice isn't being served, I really am," she said.
Sanders says they will file a civil lawsuit, claiming slander and defamation of character, against individuals who testified against Hall in the original trial.