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Timothy Gurley

Other Alabama Exonerations
On October 18, 1999, 20-year-old Jason McNeal was doused with gasoline and set ablaze in his trailer in north Huntsville, Alabama. He suffered serious burns over 80 percent of his body, but survived.

Two weeks later, he told police that he was asleep and woke up when 22-year-old Timothy Gurley and two others splashed gasoline on him and lit a match.

Gurley and the two others, 18-year-old Darla Layten and 22-year-old Joshua Wistafke, were arrested and charged with attempted murder and arson. Police said that McNeal had previously accused Layten and Wistafke of assaulting and robbing him and was scheduled to testify against them in court.

Gurley went to trial in November 2000 in Madison County Circuit Court. The prosecution played a recording of the 911 call made by McNeal as he screamed for help. A Madison County Sheriff’s deputy testified that McNeal was a ball of flame when he arrived. The deputy extinguished the flames and helped him into a shower at a nearby residence until paramedics arrived. McNeal testified and identified Gurley as one of the three who set him on fire.

Gurley testified in his own defense and denied involvement in the crime. He told the jury he was at a friend’s house with a girlfriend.

On December 1, 2000, the jury convicted Gurley of attempted murder and arson. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison. The prosecution dismissed the charges against Layten and Wistafke.

In June 2002, at a hearing on a defense motion to vacate Gurley’s convictions, McNeal recanted his identification of Gurley, Layten and Wistafke. He said that he was unconscious for several weeks after the fire and that he believed his father, A.J. McNeal, and others filled his subconscious with false memories.

He testified that in March 2002, he was watching a movie on television when the pain and flames suddenly came back to him and the images of that night became clear. He said that he did not remember the name of the movie, but that he became violently ill.

“This man was not there,” he said, pointing at Gurley.

McNeal testified that he had recently been arrested on drug charges in nearby Limestone County and while in jail told sheriff’s deputies that Gurley was innocent. He said he was given a voice stress test and no deception was indicated when he said Gurley was not involved.

On cross-examination by the prosecution, McNeal was asked if he had lied at Gurley’s trial.

“I didn’t lie,” he said. “When I testified, I was absolutely certain of what I said. Now, I’m trying to do the right thing, and you’re trying to make it seem that I’m doing wrong.”

At the conclusion of the hearing, after the prosecution said it would not pursue any further prosecution based on McNeal’s original testimony, Circuit Judge Bruce Williams vacated Gurley’s convictions and dismissed the charges. Gurley was then released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/5/2016
Most Serious Crime:Attempted Murder
Additional Convictions:Arson
Reported Crime Date:1999
Sentence:35 years
Age at the date of reported crime:22
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No